ANNAPOLIS — An audit at one of the nation’s largest public universities cited $3.3 million in potential overpayments to a contractor who was paid to find leads for students who could be interested in attending the University of Maryland University College.
UMUC, headquartered in Adelphi, had an enrollment of 97,001 students for fiscal year 2012, the state audit released Thursday said. More than half are military members, veterans and their families, many of whom live overseas and take classes online. The university also offers face-to-face instruction.
“These potential overpayments occurred because the contractor improperly billed UMUC for 43,662 leads that were never received, at a cost of $75 per lead,” the state’s Office of Legislative Audits said in its report.
The former president of the college, Susan Aldridge, resigned in March for undisclosed reasons. She had been president of the university since 2006 and had written and spoken widely on adult and distance education. Enrollment and graduation rates grew steadily during her tenure. However, there were signs of discontent with Aldridge among UMUC faculty. A complaint filed last year with the state’s Office of Legislative Audits alleged that she forced out nearly two dozen administrators and professors and made lucrative severance payments in exchange for their silence.
The University System of Maryland, acting on an anonymous letter, began a review of UMUC operations in January of last year to examine spending between July 2007 and March 2009 on an Internet advertising contract.
The vendor, which is not named and went out of business in 2010, placed ads on websites to generate student leads, the state audit said. However, UMUC did not verify the leads billed on vendor invoices.
The university system has referred results of its internal audit to the Office of the Attorney General-Criminal Division, the state audit noted, while also pointing out that such a referral does not mean a violation of the law has occurred.
Alan Brody, a spokesman with the attorney general’s office, declined to comment.
Bob Ludwig, a spokesman for UMUC, said the findings outlined in the report were “inexcusable and shouldn’t have happened.”
UMUC implemented effective controls to ensure the payments were proper sometime after March 2009 but before the vendor went out of business in July 2010, the state audit said. UMUC stopped paying for Internet advertising services based on the number of leads or applications generated in April 2011, the audit said.
“We found that that technique basically didn’t work for us in terms of the kinds of students we were getting from those leads,” Ludwig said.
Javier Miyares, UMUC’s current president, said he is confident the issue is behind the university.
“I feel both comfortable and sure that the issue has been addressed very well,” Miyares said in a telephone interview.