News Column

More Students May Have to Repay Pell Grants

June 6, 2012

Adam Kealoha Causey

Mortarboard with price tag

More Florida State College at Jacksonville students could be asked to repay Pell Grants following a federal review of the way the school doled out financial aid this year.

At least 700 already may have received money they shouldn't have in 2010-11, but now the U.S. Department of Education wants FSCJ to identify potentially ineligible students who received aid in 2011-12, administrators said Tuesday. The school already acknowledged it may be on the hook for up to $2.8 million in Pell Grants students received in the last school year.

Steve Bowers, FSCJ associate vice president of administrative services, said word from the federal government came in a letter late last week. He expects the school will handle this year's audit findings the same way it did for last year -- by telling students they owe the money.

"The United States Department of Education does have in their regulations a requirement that we pursue repayment from students," Bowers said.

FSCJ also plans to hire Jacksonville real estate attorney Bill Scheu to produce a report on how the Pell Grant problems happened.

"Upon completion of his review, Mr. Scheu will present his findings to the public in the form of an independent, objective report," FSCJ board chairman Jim McCollum read Tuesday from a prepared statement. "Mr. Scheu is well known as one of our most trusted and respected citizens."

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Scheu as Duval elections supervisor in 2004. In the 1990s, Scheu helped mediate a conflict between Planned Parenthood and the Christian Coalition, which led to agreement on a sex education program in public schools. He did the same that decade for the NAACP and the School Board on the issue of desegregation.

Scheu's report is expected at the board's August meeting.

"They may not like what I say, they may like what I say," Scheu said. "But I don't see this as an auditing of each of these files. It's going to be more of an institutional look at it so that the public can be assured that the college is back on the right track."

Students who were originally denied Pell Grants because they didn't meet academic standards went through an appeals process. After an appeal, staff members signed off on giving them money, vouching for the fact that they had a legitimate reason for making bad grades or withdrawing from classes, such as illness or death in the family.

Letters were mailed notifying the students they needed to provide better documentation or face having to repay the financial aid, Bowers said. As of Tuesday, 223 had contacted the school.

Source: (c) 2012 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

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