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March 26, 2012 9:00 AM Chicago State: “These Things Take Time”

By Daniel Luzer

Chicago State University, a school about which the Monthly published an article back in 2010, has a lot of problems. These problems don’t seem to be going away.

The school has a 13 percent graduation rate. A 2011 audit indicated that the school was “a financial mess, with federal grants misspent, lax control over contracts and misuse of purchasing cards.”

The school’s vice president for administration and finance, Glenn Meeks, said not to worry, however. “[The 2012 audit] will be the greatest test of changes,” he said. “Many of the findings that surfaced in the 2010 audit will go away. They will disappear. “

Well, we’ve got the new audit. It turns out only a few problems have disappeared. According to an Associated Press article:

Chicago State University has been unable to locate $3.8 million worth of equipment, including 950 computers that could contain confidential information, according to a state audit.
The audit revealed the university had mistakenly given out $123,000 in federal tuition aid to 20 students over the past four years and that 13 students had improperly gotten $20,000 in state-financed awards. But that was after the school administrators initially recorded $740,000 in improper aid because of poor academic achievement, forgetting that they had ended sanctions against subpar performance in 2008.

Technically some problems have disappeared. The last audit revealed 41 violations by Chicago State. The most recent audit revealed only 34.

Well, um, congratulations. Meeks explained to the AP that:

Chicago State took a proactive approach this year by instituting corrective action plans immediately upon identifying potential audit findings, by us or the auditors. We’re … well aware that these things take time.

Well, some things certainly take time but we’re not talking about fundraising or admissions statistics here; the audit was addressing violations in spending.

How much time does it take to not lose $3.8 million worth of equipment? How much time does Chicago State think it needs to not squander $123,000 worth of federal financial aid?





[Update:Deborah Douglas, director of public relations and communications at Chicago State, responds:

Chicago State University graduation rates
(based on first-time, full-time freshmen, which is 8.9 percent of CSU’s student body)
2008 - 12.8 percent
2009 - 14.1 percent
2010 - 13.0 percent
2011 - 20.9 percent

Chicago State University has a senior interning at the White House: He doesn’t count toward our graduation rate because he’s a transfer student from another state university. This is the fallacy of reporting our so-called graduation rate.

Graduation rates are based on IPEDS data, which bases graduation rates on first-time, full-time freshmen. This population is tiny at Chicago State; this year, they comprise 9 percent of our student body of about 7,000 students. A truer number would be to look at the graduation rate for transfer students, who comprise 53.2 percent of our 2011-12 new student enrollment.

Chicago State University is well known as being a transfer school. We excel at servicing older students, average age 29, who often have families and work full-time jobs. The graduation rate for transfers is 50.1 percent. This is the true and relevant fact missing from official figures that don’t count the life trajectories of nontraditional students, most of whom come to us from beleaguered public schools.

There’s more. IPEDS graduation standards have not changed since 1965, when the average college student was an 18-year-old, middle-class or upper-middle-class, white male supported by his parents. A more relevant story would be to address efforts to ensure standards of measurement remain consistent with the changing population. In Illinois, we are beginning to address the disconnect through performance funding metrics.

Don’t think CSU doesn’t care about freshmen: Currently, based on the IPEDS formula and a historic CSU baseline for first-time full-time freshmen, the graduation rate for the most recently measured 2005 cohort is 20.9%. This is the highest first-time, full-time freshman graduation rate in 20 years at CSU — a 30% increase.

If CSU were to calculate the graduation rate to include all cohorts of graduates including transfers, the graduation rate would be much higher. We’ve integrated comprehensive supports, including certified tutors who are available at all hours and a dean of the freshman experience.]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer