JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Department of Higher Education has inadequately overseen a state loan program with more than $5 million in outstanding loans, a state audit found.
Advantage Missouri offered forgivable loans to students who committed to staying in Missouri to work in high-demand occupations after graduating. The audit found that staff did not track or monitor outstanding loans and that they failed to properly communicate information about the terms of the agreement.
“Advantage Missouri was designed to help students get necessary financial assistance and commit to staying in Missouri as they began their careers. The state should be the ideal lender, not one that creates credit problems for students down the road,” said State Auditor Nicole Galloway. “My audit found mismanagement at every step, beginning with not putting clear rules in place to guide the loan process. This led to borrowers not receiving proper notification and a system that was not set up to monitor loan statuses or keep records up to date.”
Of the more than $5 million still unpaid, department officials don’t know how much should be forgiven under the terms of the loan, the audit found. It also says the department failed to implement a set of rules outlining the terms of the program that could have provided an organizational framework for staff to track the loans and follow-up to ensure accountability.
The audit also found issues with a database where auditors were concerned about the potential for unauthorized access to confidential student information maintained in a department database.
The audit also found that the Department of Higher Education does not always comply with the state’s Sunshine Law. It found that it does not prepare minutes for Coordinating Board for Higher Education work sessions, which qualify as public meetings. It also found that the board also held two closed meetings in 2013 but did not maintain minutes for one closed meeting and did not record the reason for entering closed session.
Overall, the audit rated the Department of Higher Education as “fair” the third lowest of four possible ratings.
The auditor’s office notes that this was one of four higher education audits underway in the office, with audits forthcoming on statewide college affordability at public universities, performance funding and an audit of the University of Missouri System Administration.