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April 23, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Auditor questions tuition waiver documentation

About  $70 million in college tuition waivers issued in 2011 by state college and universities were not properly documented, according to a new report by the state auditor’s office.

But two of the state’s universities with the largest number of improperly documented waivers downplayed the findings, saying the report exaggerates the issue.

The audit was prompted by a 2011 audit which found that Central Washington University issued $145,719 in ineligible or unallowable tuition waivers, 60 percent of which went to dependents or spouses of employees.

As it turns out, the instance at CWU was an outlier, and auditors did not find other examples of ineligible or unallowable waivers in this year’s audit, said Matt Miller, government and community liaison for the auditor’s office.

However, the report also looked at whether tuition waivers were being properly documented – that is, if students who received the waivers were submitting proof that they were following the waiver rules.

Tuition waivers are awarded to students for a variety of reasons – most commonly, for graduate students who work 20 hours a week helping teach classes, or doing research. Most of those waivers are given to graduate students at the UW and WSU.

Auditors said they could not determine if about 17 percent of the waivers were awarded to students who met or maintained eligibility requirements, including working 20 hours each week. They projected that the schools “awarded $71.7 million in tuition waivers with inadequate documentation to support either initial or on-going student eligibility.”

The University of Washington, in an official response to the report, said the auditor’s report grossly overstates the issue, and that the entire dollar value of waivers issued without sufficient documentation is only about $14,000.

Washington State University also pushed back, saying that the auditor used a narrow interpretation of the criteria that resulted in an inaccurate and misleading conclusion.

Miller said the audit report doesn’t require the universities to take any action. “What happens next is up to them,” he said.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the university doesn’t plan to take action. “This is a situation where we just disagree,” he said. “We have good policies and procedures in place.”

Comments | More in Education | Topics: Central Washington University, University of Washington, Washington State University

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