Comptroller’s Office blames management for TSU’s housing issues

Comptroller's Office release Report on management and operations regarding TSU, and TSU responded to the report.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 4:28 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 12:27 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office blames management for the student housing issue at Tennessee State University, according to a special report issued Wednesday prior to a committee meeting on Thursday at the State Capitol.

The report concluded that TSU’s leaders lack of planning, management and sound decision-making exacerbated the need for emergency housing during the 2022-2023 school year after the university admitted a record number of students.

According to the report, TSU spent almost $17 million to lease 687 hotel rooms to house 1,112 students and for 163 beds at House of God near campus.

“TSU management has repeatedly fallen short of sound fiscal practices, adequate documentation, and responsive communications to concerned parents and students,” the report said. “In addition, there have been repeated inconsistencies between testimony given by TSU officials and actions later carried out.”

The Comptroller’s special report includes a number of policy considerations for the General Assembly, ranging from replacing TSU’s Board of Trustees and university management to enhanced reporting from current TSU leadership.

TSU responded to the Comptroller’s report on the university’s operations.

“University officials acknowledge the efforts of the Comptroller’s staff in assembling this report, and take seriously the matters cited in the document but believe that the report is misleading and misrepresents the actual state of conditions at TSU,” the university said in a statement. “What the report failed to state is Tennessee State University – at the time the report was undertaken – is in the best condition today than ever in the University’s 111-year history. Under the president’s leadership, the future of TSU promises to be even brighter and its foundation stronger, with an administration and Board even more committed to ensuring our students are provided a quality educational experience.”

The school credited the “HBCU Renaissance” where more Black students are choosing to attend HBCUs than other college and universities.

The Comptroller’s Office initiated the investigation following TSU’s request in Summer 2022 to lease six properties. According to the report, the university initially requested the lease of 12 properties, including 11 hotels.

The report said student demand for housing has exceeded the university’s supply almost every year since at least 2017; however, the problem escalated in 2022 after TSU leaders conducted an extensive recruiting and scholarship effort despite the housing shortage.

According to the report, TSU’s housing problem is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The university’s on-campus housing capacity is 3,680 beds, short of the estimated need of 4,800 beds for Fall 2023.

TSU officials plan to construct two new residence halls in the future, adding another 1,000 beds; however, four existing residence halls with a total of 1,506 beds may need to be demolished because they are at the end of their useful life.

The university announced in January it has received $250 million in funding for the state to be used on major infrastructure projects. However, university officials said at the time none of that money will go towards housing. It was the largest one-time investment in an HBCU in the country.

Officials said the $250 million will go toward sprucing up six buildings on campus: the Boswell building, Davies Humanities Building, Elliott Hall, McCord Hall, Jackson Hall and Harold Love Sr. Building.

“These were just six of the more challenging buildings that we have,” TSU Associate Vice President for Administration Curtis Johnson said in January.

The infrastructure project would include fixing things like roofs, doors and windows for the six buildings, some of which administrators said are 40 or 50-year-old buildings.

WSMV4 asked administrators in January whether the money should be used to invest in making the campus housing situation better.

“That particular pot of money does not fund auxiliary, and housing is considered auxiliary, which means labor has to pay its own way,” Frank Stevenson, TSU Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said in January. “We have project now that will create 1,000 new beds on campus, and we’re trying to move that as quickly as possible.”

TSU President Dr. Glenda Glover said in January that the HBCU Renaissance is a national concern dealing with how to house students.

“Because students are choosing to return to HBCUs, that’s a fact, and in so doing there’s not enough space for students on campus,” Glover said. “We’re working through this amazing phenomenon we’re experiencing. So why we can’t guarantee housing for every student. We can definitely assist students in attaining housing, trying to locate off-campus housing. We’re put together some alternative housing for students.”

The Comptroller staff determined a significant factor in the university’s enrollment growth was TSU’s decision to increase its 2022-2023 scholarship budget from $6.4 million to $28.3 million. About three-quarters (1,280 out of 1,722) of the scholarships provided were full-cost scholarships that guaranteed housing.

Additionally, the Comptroller’s Office concluded about one-third of the students (529 of 1,722) did not meet the minimum GPA requirements for these scholarships. The students may have qualified based on financial need, but there was no documentation to that effect in the random sample of student files reviewed.

Moreover, the $28.3 million budgeted for scholarships was not fully approved by the TSU Board of Trustees until November 2022, a month before the completion of the Fall 2022 semester.

The Comptroller's Office plans to review the report with an ad hoc Senate committee.

As of November 2022, TSU planned to lease three hotels for the Fall 2023 semester.

The Comptroller’s special report includes a number of policy considerations for the General Assembly, ranging from replacing TSU’s Board of Trustees and management to enhanced reporting from current TSU leadership.

The Comptroller’s Office will present the special report to the Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on TSU on Thursday morning following the Senate Floor Session in Senate Hearing Room 1. The report will also be shared with the Education, Health, and General Welfare Joint Evaluation Committee of the Government Operations Committee during TSU’s sunset hearing on Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. in House Hearing Room 1.