Higher education 'penalized': State officials' errors cause problems in financial aid process

BLUEFIELD — The presidents of both Bluefield State College and Concord University say it’s business as usual regarding financial aid for students, despite federal reimbursement problems created by the state.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that all West Virginia’s public colleges and universities will be placed on “provisional certification to be reimbursed for financial aid with heightened cash monitoring for at least five years.”

That’s because, the report says, state officials’ errors for three straight years have resulted in late federal filings, which puts sanctions on state colleges participating in its Title IV programs for federal grants and loans.

Popular Pell Grants are among the Title IV benefits.

For the past three years, the state has submitted its audit of federal dollars after the March 31 deadline. 

As a result of that, rather than being reimbursed up front for the grants and loans, cash-strapped schools will have to come up with the money and be reimbursed later.

“This action by the U.S. Department of Education affects not just Bluefield State but every public four-year and two-year institution in West Virginia,” said Dr. Marcia Krotseng, president of BSC.

Krotseng said higher education institutions are being “penalized for something over which we had no control.”

The department rejected a state excuse that this year’s two-month delay of a required Bluefield State College audit resulted from state agencies “not providing the data timely” that was first needed to complete an underlying financial report.

That deadline was March 31, but Krotseng also rejected the excuse, saying the information was provided to the state by the deadline.

“As Chancellor Paul Hill (Higher Education Policy Commission) has emphasized to the presidents (of state colleges and universities), all of our state’s public higher education institutions met the March 31 deadline in advance, and the final higher education portion of the audit was clean,” she said.

Regardless of the problem, Krotseng said students will receive their financial aid this year.

“I am very grateful to the Governor’s Office, the Department of Revenue, Chancellor Hill, Senator (Joe) Manchin, Senator (Shelley Moore) Capito, and Congressman (Evan) Jenkins for their immediate response and strong commitment to finding both short- and long-term solutions to this situation,” she said. “With their assistance, our students will receive their financial aid dollars next month just as expected.” 

Dr. Kendra Boggess, Concord University president, also said students will receive the aid on time.

“Our first priority is always our students,” she said. “We want to make sure they understand this will not impact the status of their financial aid in regards to attending classes in the upcoming academic year.”

Boggess also ensured the faculty and staff that “university operations will continue as they always have.“

“We are communicating with both our students and employees to ease their concerns and our business office staff is available to answer any questions,” she said. “At this point, we are moving forward, as planned.”

Gov. Jim Justice said in the AP report that he will find out who’s responsible and then “heads will roll.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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