Pell Grant misuse causes uproar

By Jean Volz

Nearly $6.3 billion in Pell Grants this year have been provided for 4.1 million college students, but an ongoing scandal to misuse the federally appropriated funds has the educational system in an uproar.

According to an article by the Associated Press (AP), details of a scandal which involved the abuse of federally supplied pell grant funds have been exposed, causing investigations of schools’ deceptive abuse of the money.

Although the fraudulent incidents have occurred primarily in schools located in New York City, the probability of the episodes happening in Illinois can be just as high.

The reason for this could be a collaboration of the inside hierarchy at the institution, as was the case in the schools in New York City.

An article in USA Today cited one school which not only claimed Pell Grant funds for enrolled students, but also requested it for individuals who applied yet were not enrolled at the institution.

Jerry Augsburger, director of NIU’s Financial Aid Office, said, “All institutions who participate in federal programming undergo federal audits by outside auditors each year.”

Therefore, it is very difficult for schools to get away with the criminal activity.

Augsburger said he believes the activities at the schools in New York City were definitely inside operations, and reassured the doings could not take place at NIU.

He explained the process by which eligible students are reimbursed for their tuition with Pell Grant funds, and said it was all done via computer interface with several offices in the university.

After going through the regular financial aid application process, qualified students will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the federal processing agency, he said.

Next, Augsburger said, the SAR is turned into the NIU Financial Aid Office and through the computer system, which is interfaced with the Office of Registration and Records, the students’ file is found to see whether or not they are registered and enrolled in the semester for which the funds have been allocated.

If the students are eligible, the Financial Aid Office then will process the Pell Grant and, via computer interface, will issue credits to the students’ accounts in the Bursar’s billing system, he said.

If a balance amount exists, the computer will automatically apply the grant money to it; however, if there is a zero balance on the account after the class withdrawal deadline, checks will be issued to the students at their local addresses, Augsburger said.

He reassured, “If an individual does not register for classes, there will be no transfer of money and no creation of a check.”

Augsburger noted 3,728 NIU students received the pell grant in the 1992-93 school year, yielding funds in excess of $6 million. The average award per student was around $1,600.

According to the AP, the investigations of the instances in New York City have produced evidence of the schools’ deceptive practices. The guilty institutions will be seen before the U.S. Department of Justice.

Augsburger assured because of computer interfacing, no such thing will happen at NIU.