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Auditor General finds that UF overcharged students, paid more severance than allowed

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Florida Auditor General has completed an operational audit on some processes and administrative activities of the University of Florida (UF), finding that UF made severance payments of $2.7 million more than permitted by law, Preview and application fees exceeded the amounts permitted in State, purchasing cards are not always canceled timely when a cardholder leaves the University, and the University does not have a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. 

Severance Payments

State law precludes severance pay from exceeding 20 weeks of compensation. The audit found that the State Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) offered a divestment incentive opportunity to its employees, allowing them to receive severance payments for compensation and health insurance premiums in exchange for separating from University employment. 34 employees accepted the offer, receiving severance payments totaling $4.3 million, $2.7 million more than the amount equivalent to 20 weeks of compensation for each employee. 

The recommendation is that UF should ensure that future severance pay provisions are in line with State law.

UF’s response was that it didn’t consider the payments to be severance, but they will not use that strategy in the future. 

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Student Fees

State law limits orientation and nonrefundable application fees to $35 and $30, respectively. 

But in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the University held a 2-day freshman orientation each year with a mandatory overnight stay costing $200 per student. For those 2 years, UF collected orientation fees totaling about $2.4 million more than the allowed amount.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, UF held a 2-day freshman orientation with an overnight fee of $150 per student. They offered an option of foregoing the orientation and paying only $35, but students had to pay the full amount and initiate a refund request for $115, and the option was not prominently displayed. Of the 7501 students who registered for orientation, only 3 students selected that option. UF collected orientation fees of about $900k more than the allowed amount.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, UF also held the 2-day orientation with a $150 fee. Students were allow to opt out and pay only $35, but only 182 students of 6960 selected that option. UF collected about $800k more than the allowed amount.

In addition, UF exceeded the allowed $30 nonrefundable application fee by assessing $35 per freshman application to 92,064 students from July 2016 through October 2019. UF collected $460,320 more than the allowed amount. For non-freshman applicants, UF charged $37 to 82,918 students from January 2018 through October 16, 2019. UF collected $388,387 more than the allowed amount

The recommendation is that UF “should continue efforts” to ensure that fees are limited to the amounts specified by law.

UF agreed with the recommendation.

Purchasing cards

UF uses purchasing cards (P-cards) to allow employees to purchase items without having to go through the purchase order process. Departments are required to let the P-card administrative team know when employees separate from University employment “as soon as possible,” but the audit found that P-cards for 60 employees were canceled an average of 98 days after the cardholders’ separation dates. 

The audit did not find any inappropriate charges, but the “untimely cancellation of P-card privileges increases the risk that such privileges could be misused.”

The recommendation is that UF should continue to ensure that P-card privileges are promptly canceled when a cardholder separates from University employment.

UF said they have implemented new processes to better identify cardholders who leave the university.

Disaster Recovery Plan

The audit found that while UF has some elements of a disaster recovery plan, they did not have a comprehensive plan detailing key components for maintaining and restoring core IT infrastructure as of November 2019. 

The recommendation is that UF should develop a comprehensive disaster recovery plan and test the plan annually.

UF said they have now completed the comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

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