Admissions scandal: How higher education internal audit can help protect institutions

By Joe Migneco

Last year, a well-publicised scandal relating to college admissions in the US has placed a focus on higher education internal audit to ensure the proceedings remain above board. The scandal itself involved the discovery that wealthy and well-known parents were using their financial advantage and social status to attempt to get their children admission to competitive colleges without academic merit 

This involved athletic coaches who worked for the colleges accepting bribes to place prospective students in the relevant sporting teams - committing fraud to make these students look more attractive to the college admissions board. As a result, the coaches associated with the scandal lost their jobs and the parents faced the legal consequence of their actions - which also included arranging for their children to cheat in SAT exams. 50 indictments were issued to those involved which include college athletic coaches and celebrity parents. [1] 

The crucial role of internal audit 

Rather than dwell on what happened, colleges should use this as an opportunity to review their processes and put actions in place to mitigate these types of situations from being able to occur again. This is where internal audit plays an important role: to provide unbiased assurance that the internal controls associated with governance and risk management are both complaint and well managed.  Internal auditors provide an independent view to both the institution and the public. Their presence within the admissions department would pick up on anything that doesn’t look right, and in turn, maintain the credibility of the university. 

Looking at this from a reactive risk assessment point of view, the presence of internal auditors within the admissions offices of the colleges involved would have reviewed the internal controls and financial statements associated with admissions and raised any non-compliances with the board. The executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has since recommended that colleges review their admissions activities to ensure that they remain fair, ethical and uphold the values and integrity expected of higher education.

The presence of a robust internal audit system will help to ensure that these expectations are upheld and also maintain the reputation of universities in the wake of the admissions scandal. 

How audit management software can help 

Audit management software plays a key role in streamlining audit processes and enhancing productivity. Our internal audit solution delivers reliable data to appraise the financial and administrative controls within admissions, evaluating compliance with policies and procedures and pertinent laws and regulations.  

Pentana Audit is a centralized system that gives easy access to necessary data to establish a partnership and proactive communication with management. Carolann Lazarus, IT audit manager at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York states: “We were managing audits using a fractured, manual process and wanted a product that would improve efficiency, effectiveness and standardisation. Pentana Audit provides the functionality we were looking for and we are excited to implement it. In addition, Pentana Audit’s ability to integrate ERM was a real value add.” 

Find out more about Pentana Audit and how it can help to implement a robust higher education internal audit process and maintain compliance and credibility within university admissions.   


[1] United States Department of Justice, ‘Arrests Made in Nationwide College Admissions Scam: Alleged Exam Cheating & Athletic Recruitment Scheme’: 

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