Utah State business school on the defensive after student media finds a lapse in tuition oversight

An advisory board is supposed to meet annually and make recommendations on the use of roughly $8 million in supplemental tuition paid by business students. <br>

Utah State University administrators plan to convene a tuition advisory panel for the first time in December after reporters with the school’s student newspaper discovered that the group formed two years ago has never held a meeting.

In 2015, university administrators entered into an agreement with USU’s student government to create a Differential Tuition Advisory Board. The board’s charter calls for annual meetings and outlines the membership of the advisory panel to include students, faculty, staff and administrators.

But through interviews with Associate Dean Dave Patel and public records request, Utah Statesman reporters Alison Berg and Carter Moore discovered the committee existed only on paper.

“The Statesman contacted all five faculty members Patel said were on the board,” Berg and Moore reported, “two stated via email they had never been involved with this board or differential tuition, while the other three did not respond.”

USU spokesman Tim Vitale confirmed to The Tribune that the advisory committee has never been impaneled.

“The advisory committee referenced in the Statesman report did not meet, and that is a failure for certain. No excuses,” Vitale said. “But, and importantly, that is not to say the associate dean was not in regular and ongoing conversations and meetings directly with the school’s students.”

Students at USU’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business pay differential tuition to support the college’s programs and staffing. Those payments are made on top of general tuition, and combine to roughly $8 million in supplemental funding for the business school.

The advisory board, according to its charter, is intended to review the use of differential tuition funding and submit recommendations to Dean Douglas Anderson.

Vitale said information regarding differential tuition is regularly posted to the business school website and shared with Huntsman students. He said university administrators are aware of the issues raised by The Statesman’s report, and are working to comply with the terms of the advisory board’s charter.

A breakdown of differential tuition uses for the 2017 fiscal year, provided by Vitale, show the majority of funds going toward salaries and other personnel costs, with additional spending on operating expenses.

“Student input is a critical part of the process, as is communication with students about how differential tuition is being spent,” Vitale said. “An Advisory Board meeting for this year has been scheduled for Dec. 4.”

In an email to The Tribune, Berg and Moore said they are happy Huntsman administrators have agreed to increase tuition transparency.

“We recognize the importance of college journalism and thank our advisers, editors and sources for helping us make our story impactful,” they wrote. “Reporting on this story took a lot of time and energy, and we are extremely glad to have seen it make an impact. It goes to show the importance of watchdog journalism, no matter how small.”

Editor’s note: Salt Lake Tribune owner and publisher Paul Huntsman is the son of Jon Huntsman Sr.