Leveraging internal audit for higher education organizations

Supporting the identification and assessment of risk

Colleges and universities are facing heightened scrutiny over governance practices in the wake of increasing regulatory oversight, economic uncertainty, high-profile scandals, and violent crimes.  Over the last several years, there have been a number of events that have shaped how trustees and board members across the country think about risks at their institutions, including:


The evolution of internal audit

Taking a strategic approach to engaging internal audit can enable trustees and senior leadership to accelerate change that aligns with and supports the goals and objectives of the institution. A proactive, forward looking approach to internal audit planning can anticipate future needs and emerging risks.

Elements of an effective internal audit program

A number of elements to an effective audit program help to ensure that internal audit supports the board’s execution of its governance responsibilities, including:

  1. Helping to identify fraud, waste, or abuse that could be harming your mission
  2. Reviewing processes to enhance internal controls and streamline practices
  3. Serving as a strong, objective voice during tough decision making processes (e.g., evaluating the case for investment in new systems)
  4. Liaising between groups to illuminate and facilitate change
  5. Maintaining an effective reporting structure (e.g., charters, tone at the top, direct line to top management)
  6. Routinely reporting to the board and executive levels
  7. Using an inclusive audit planning process, including regular risk assessments and consideration of emerging issues and trends
  8. Deploying staff with requisite qualifications, including appropriate technical skill sets 

Internal audit's role

Internal audit provides trustees with objective information, advises management, and supports governance at colleges and universities across the country.  This function works directly with audit committees to:

  • Enhance regulatory compliance
  • Review internal controls to provide assurance that processes are operating effectively
  • Increase efficiency of business processes and identify other productivity enhancements
  • Support accreditation efforts 
  • Liaise with external auditors, including  government agencies
  • Support public relations efforts (e.g., in a fraud case, determining the nature of the fraud and correcting internal controls proactively)

​About Baker Tilly

Baker Tilly is a full-service accounting and advisory firm.  In addition to financial statement audit and tax services, we work collaboratively with Higher Education organizations to address strategic areas such as risk management, research compliance, construction, sustainable energy, cost reduction, fraud, and information technology. We are adept at navigating the complex culture found in college and university settings.