CONCORD, N.H. — Community college officials on Tuesday defended their system’s operations and finances to New Hampshire lawmakers who said they’re troubled by the conclusions of a recent audit.
A legislative study committee on higher education questioned officials about the audit, which identified nearly 30 concerns about financial management and other aspects of the seven-campus, 9,300-student system.
Republican Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield said it doesn’t make sense to have a president and often two vice presidents at each campus.
“How can you have a community college system that has seven different systems operating simultaneously?” said Reagan, the committee’s chairman. “It seems kind of like a redundancy that leads to the failure of one campus policy to match up with another campus policy.”
College officials noted that because each college is independently accredited, it is required to have certain staffing structures. But two of the three more rural campuses now have only one vice president, and officials are examining whether to make changes elsewhere, said Chancellor Ross Gittell, of the state’s community college system. He said while some states have moved toward one unified community college with multiple branches, New Hampshire’s campuses are tailored to meet the needs of their specific communities and economies.
“There’s a certain pride and independence and uniqueness in each of our colleges, just as there’s a uniqueness in each of the regions of our state that people are proud of and that has historical and cultural context,” he said. “It could be perceived as a weakness and a strength of our system. The weakness may be in not achieving all the possible cost efficiencies under a single system.”
In a report issued in August, auditors said the system had no clear policy on how to allocate state funding and couldn’t justify why one school got nearly three times the amount of money per student than another. But officials said the disparity isn’t as great as it appears because of the way auditors calculated the number of students. They also emphasized that their allocation formula deliberately favors smaller, rural campuses that otherwise would struggle to maintain operations.
The audit also recommended more oversight over purchasing, noting that one college president’s $34,000 inauguration expenses included the cost of commissioning a poem for the occasion and commemorative medallions featuring the president’s likeness. College officials agreed some expenses were questionable but noted that the inauguration event was linked to a major scholarship fundraiser that netted more than $100,000.
The system is working on implementing all 29 recommendations included in the audit, Gittell said. A third have been completed, and another third will be done in six months. While the audit covered five fiscal years, 2012-2016, a separate financial audit performed last year found no significant problems, he said.
“We take this audit very seriously, and we’re going to learn and improve from it, but we’re a very complex organization in a very dynamic higher ed environment,” he said.