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State completes audit of finances at Price college

Sun Advocate reporter

According to information released to the state news media, the members of the Utah Legislature's interim higher education appropriations committee were recently given copies of a financial audit of the College of Eastern Utah.

The audit was conducted by the state of Utah and covered CEU financial statements ending on June 30, 2004.

The audit showed that things have improved in the past five years as to the school's financial health. But there were several recommendations made by the auditors to improve things more.

In 2001 when CEU president Ryan Thomas took over the college administration, the school was facing a $5 million deficit.

Thomas immediately went to work on the problem and was able to slash the school's $14 million annual budget by $2.2 million.

The CEU president did that by cutting almost 30 jobs and eliminating two programs from the curriculum at the college.

The audit showed that the president's efforts have paid off. The CEU deficit had shrunk to $2.2 million by the time of the 2004 audit and registers at $150,000 for the current year.

Richard Kendell, state commissioner of higher education, reportedly told the appropriations committee that part of the original problem was that CEU's budget was stressed at a time of declining state funding and a struggling economy in eastern Utah.

Other problems were competition from the Southeast College of Applied Technology that was granted higher education status by the legislature in 2002, and the fact that many high school students take classes at CEU without paying tuition.

The audit didn't uncover any financial mismanagement, but found some weaknesses in the school's internal accounting practices. It was found that the school needs improvements in staff training, record keeping, and the separating of financial functions. Kendall told the lawmakers that he was very much involved in getting the issues settled, and that most of the concerns identified in the audit have already been addressed.

It was noted that in conjunction with the cutbacks and belt tightening, CEU has converted it's accounting system to the state's new financial database. It was a difficult process since CEU is understaffed and the same people who were putting the new system in place and learning to manage it, were the same people who had to keep the old system up and running until the conversion was complete.

In fact, staff shortages are now one of the problems identified by the audit. Kendall is quoted as saying that it would be helpful if the college had a more robust budget and could afford to hire another computer programmer to fully implement the new accounting system.

In all, there were three recommendations made by the audit committee. The first was a need to separate duties for employees who control budgets, maintain accounting records and/or collect cash and checks. Second was a need to hire additional accounting staff to ensure proper and timely financial management. And third, the instituting of internal controls to prevent and reduce deficits.

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