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A wide-ranging investigation into the administrative practices of a Texas community college found that the institution improperly changed students' grades and did not have a policy for doing so.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, or THECB, released a report of the findings of its investigation of Coastal Bend College earlier this week. The report also outlined how the college failed to properly administer a state nursing grant program.

Officials at the college are disputing parts of the report, although they wouldn’t go into detail about which parts they believe are wrong.

“The Coastal Bend College Board of Trustees will review the results of THECB report at its upcoming board meeting and CBC administration will then consider further comment,” Bernie Saenz, director of marketing and public relations for the college, said in an email. “CBC administration will say that it believes the report contains inaccuracies. We will also note that the report makes no findings of illegality or fraud.”

Saenz said college administrators take the report seriously and are working to improve Coastal Bend's processes and procedures.

The investigation found that 275 grade changes were made for 124 students on nursing exams administered in the fall semester last year. The grade changes occurred 45 days after the end of the semester.

Of those grade changes:

  • More than half, or 139, were not signed off by a faculty member, which was required by the grade change form.
  • Thirty-one were not processed and, as result, do not appear on students’ transcripts.
  • Sixteen grade-change forms did not explain the reasoning for the change.
  • Eight were changed from a failing to passing grade, including three for which forms did not include a faculty signature.
  • Seven grade change forms could not be "tested" because a completed transcript wasn’t available.

Another 21 grade changes occurred earlier this year in the spring semester; eight of them had an incorrect letter grade and moved the student from failing to passing.

Kelly Carper Polden, a spokeswoman for the higher education coordinating board, said in an email that the board has not yet determined the effect the grade changes had on student outcomes, such as graduation.

The investigation also found that the college didn’t comply with the requirements of a state nursing grant. The college is being asked to refund $260,287 to THECB.

“Weak controls over both grant administration and grade changes indicate weak institutional integrity and could result in numerous impacts including accreditation issues,” according to the report.

The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission. The institution's next reaffirmation is in 2024.

THECB launched the investigation after Matilda Saenz, a former interim vice president of instruction and economic development at Coastal Bend, accused administrators of committing fraud by changing the grades of nursing students without faculty consent. She was fired in August after initially making the allegations and reporting to board members a climate of intimidation at the college.

The investigation found that some administrators, staff, faculty and students failed to meet with investigators out of fear of retaliation.

“A common theme communicated to the auditors by these individuals was that staff felt intimidated and threatened by the possible loss of their job if they were found to have been providing information or otherwise cooperating with the auditors,” according to the report.

Representatives from the Texas Community College Teaching Association could not be reached for comment.

THECB will discuss the report and any follow-up steps during the next board meeting in January, Polden said.

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