FARGO — Higher education leaders voted to hire an independent audit firm to review complaints concerning finances, space utilization and a workforce training program at the North Dakota State College of Science.

The three-member audit committee of the State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to approve the independent audit in a special meeting on Friday, May 4.

Members decided to hire an outside audit firm because of the workload facing internal audit and compliance staff and to have an independent examination of the concerns.

The audit was prompted by complaints that were submitted, either to a hotline or to internal audit and compliance staff for the North Dakota University System, said Greg Stemen, a higher education board member and chairman of the audit committee.

Board members did not discuss the allegations in Friday's brief telephone conference meeting, and Stemen said in an interview that he purposely did not seek the details in order to maintain his objectivity to evaluate the audit findings once presented to the board.

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"I have not seen any of the information that has been provided," Stemen said. "I can't get into the specifics because I don't know the specifics."

Broadly, he said, the concerns involve finances, space utilization and TrainND, a workforce training program provided by four state colleges, including the North Dakota State College of Science, which is based in Wahpeton and has a satellite campus in Fargo.

John Richman, president of NDSCS, said all he knows is the general nature of the complaints, which he learned in a telephone call with Stemen and Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

"The chancellor and Greg Stemen informed me via telephone call that there had been complaints registered via the hotline or through the compliance office at the chancellor's office," Richman said.

Echoing remarks made separately by Stemen, Richman said he was told the nature of the complaint involved finances, space utilization and TrainND. "That's the level of knowledge that I have at this time," he said.

TrainND, which was established in the 1990s, has been having financial problems because revenues have lagged behind expenses, Richman said. Because of that, Richman said he was forced to lay off one employee and reassign duties among the other dozen employees.

"We needed to do a restructure within the TrainND staff," Richman said. "No one did anything wrong. This is not a performance issue. This is a budget decision."

NDSCS will cooperate fully with the audit and Richman said he looks forward to the review, which he said could provide information to help improve performance.

"Why wouldn't we want that?" he said.

Hagerott, who said he could not discuss the complaint while the audit is pending, said it likely will take several weeks to determine the scope of the audit and to hire an audit firm. Internal audit staff is equipped to perform routine compliance reviews, he said.

By conducting the independent audit, "We're just following procedure," Hagerott said. "We've had some concerns voiced. We'll have an outside group look at that."