By Cara Young, Alex Maxwell and Rachel Byrd
The Lone Star College System’s accounts are currently under investigation for $14 million dollars worth of improperly distributed financial aid funds by the U.S. Department of Education.
The DOE’s review of accounts uncovered that LSC has provided students who graduated from ineligible high schools with Pell, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and federal loans.
“The DOE identified 6,160 students as incorrectly receiving financial aid during the 2012 – 2016 time period,” LSC’s Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Mott told The Howler in an email interview.
Mott said that an appeal has been submitted to the Department of Education.
“It was not possible to review all 6,160 records during the 45 days we had to appeal, so we reviewed a statistical sample of 167 students,” Mott said. “For about a third of those students, we did find documentation that they were correctly awarded financial aid. After submitting the appeal, we are now working to review all 6,160 records.”
At LSC-Kingwood financial aid consists of about 26.3 percent of students receiving Pell Grant funding, according to the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
About 33.8 percent of students who graduate have debt and the average student debt of graduates is $15,048.
Mott said there would be no expected impact on schools budget due to this issue.
“If, and when, a payment is due to the Department of Education, LSC will use reserve funds to make the payment,” she said. “The current forecast is that we will end FY 2019 (August 31, 2019) with cash reserves of $64 million. This does not include any Hurricane Harvey repairs as we are still working through FEMA and the State for reimbursement.”
However, students are concerned as to how students who had received financial aid from the college will be affected by the audit.
“I hope that the students who received funding through this mistake are not affected in a bad way after this,” said Victoria Richardson, a student at Lone Star College-Kingwood. “I don’t think it would be entirely fair for the college to make the students pay for their mistake.”
LSC-Kingwood student Adriana Maxwell is also concerned.
“Well, it does (concern me) because I do believe that sometimes the parameters for someone who qualifies for financial aid can be relatively narrow,” Maxwell said.” They don’t take in the full picture as to how much a student can actually afford.”
Not only are students concerned with how they will afford the next semester, but where the college will find the money for an unplanned expense and what it may mean giving up.
Richardson is concerned that paying back the DOE could impact other areas.
“I would assume they will make a budget to pay back the audit,” Richardson said. “However, I do understand that by adding another program of repayment to budget for, that will take away from other programs. I guess this mistake will impact more than they had hoped for.”
Maxwell is also wondering where funding will be allocated from.
“Well, I think they have to start looking at projects that they were going to do,” Maxwell said. “If you were going to build or renovate a building or perhaps teachers were going to get a raise that year maybe this is going to be the year that just doesn’t happen.”