Broward College Financial Aid Office

Business / 04.11.2015

ProEd assesses Broward College Financial Aid Office

8/28/2015 Federal review cites Broward College for overpayments in Pell Grants, federal loans Sun Sentinel

Broward College cited for overpayments in financial aid

By Scott Travis
Sun Sentinel

AUGUST 28, 2015, 7:03 PM

Broward College’s financial aid department has been plagued by inefficiencies in the past year that resulted in students being frustrated, confused and in some cases overpaid.

The college will have to pay at least $18,000, and possibly much more, after a U.S. Department of Education review released in July cited the college for giving financial aid to students who were ineligible or who took certain classes that couldn’t be paid for with federal dollars.

That follows a consultant’s report in November that found numerous problems in the financial aid department, including poor automation, outdated technology, poor service, a poor organizational structure and federal compliance problems.

Office staff were handling functions that could be more easily done by computers, and a large number of students were calling with questions that should have been clearly explained online, said the report by ProEd, a Sarasota consulting firm.

“Though the office has some longtime, hardworking and dedicated employees, the quality of customer service to students is poor,” the report says. “…Generally, students are not receiving the type of information they need to make informed decisions.”

The college said it has been making strides to improve the department, including better training of staff. The associate vice president for financial aid resigned under pressure in March and has been replaced. The college said it’s fixed computer glitches that led to some problems and is implementing a new userfriendly financial aid system designed by the technology company Workday. Policies and procedures have been changed to better reflect federal regulations, officials said.

Those fixes were already being made when the U.S. Department of Education decided to review the college’s financial aid records this year, officials said.

The college has acknowledged $18,000 in ineligible payments to eight students from a 30student
sample identified in the federal report. The final total could grow because the U.S. Department of Education wants the college to review the Pell Grant and Stafford Loan records of more than 30,000 students.

The college objects to that, saying financial aid errors were not as widespread as the department suggested and that none of the issues were the result of fraud or other illegal activities. Broward College students received about $123 million in federal aid in 2013-14.

“We firmly stand by our position and expectation that the final amount owed will not be more than $18,000,” said college spokeswoman Angela Nicoletti.

The college has already footed the bill for a number of students it identified as receiving improper payments in summer 2014, before the federal government got involved.

At that time, Marielena DeSanctis, who had just been hired as vice president for student affairs, started reviewing the financial aid procedures and noticed some compliance problems. Among the issues identified then were students getting financial aid although they hadn’t turned in a high school transcript or who weren’t taking or passing enough classes to maintain eligibility.

Those students were not asked to repay the college, DeSanctis said.

“Any student who had started the term under the perception they had a financial aid award, the institution covered that award with institution funds,” she said.

Officials weren’t able to say how many students were effected or how much the errors cost the college.

While the college acknowledges some incorrect payments, it’s disputing some of the U.S. Department of
Education’s findings, including:

•About $23,000 in grants and loans that the federal department said were improperly given to three students in a 30student sample who were taking classes for a nursing program they hadn’t been accepted into. The college contends one of those students was fully eligible for aid. It’s offered to repay $10,894.

•The improper distribution of $6,233 in grants and loans to pay for classes that were not part of three students’ programs of study. The college insists two students classes were actually eligible. It’s agreed to repay $153.75.

•Financial aid given to four students who hadn’t made satisfactory progress toward earning their degrees. The college says only two students are ineligible and has agreed to repay $6,654 but hasn’t agreed to a larger review.

•Financial aid improperly given to two students who took more remedial classes than allowed for federal funding. The college said not all the classes were considered remedial, and it shouldn’t have to repay those funds.

stravis@sunsentinel.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421 or Twitter @smtravis

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