TN colleges may be giving loans to undeserving students

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Financial aid workers at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville may be giving college loans to students who don’t deserve them, according to an audit by state Comptroller Justin Wilson.

This matters, seeing as how taxpayers pay for financial aid workers.

As previously reported, many people believe financial aid workers too often award loans to students who aren’t college material, who drop out not long after enrolling.

The audit reports financial aid workers weren’t following written policies and procedures to determine whether students were being honest on application forms.

FINANCIAL AID: Did TTU officials give out student loans indiscriminately?

In their defense, these financial aid workers were using the wrong manual.

“The manual received did not contain the required policies, was incomplete in sections, and contained references to a different school,” according to the audit.

“The director of financial aid stated that the manual was a work in progress, as the original manual had recently been lost.”

That original manual, the audit went on, was only available on the director’s computer, was not accessible to other financial aid workers and got lost when the hard drive crashed last year, the audit said.

The director did not make a backup copy, according to the audit.

Tennessee Watchdog was unable to determine whether any financial aid workers gave out student loans improperly, as TTU officials did not return requests for comment Thursday.

TTU officials provided auditors with a newer manual this past summer, although auditors said it’s still incomplete in several parts.

University officials did tell auditors, though,they have updated and revised their manual appropriately and made it accessible to all financial aid staff members.

They’re even backing up their electronic copy, the audit says.

According to TTU’s website, the school has 11,500 students, two-thirds of whom are on some type of financial aid, and the financial aid office has 14 employees.

TTU has a graduation rate of 22 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 college rankings.

As previously reported, state comptrollers have called out other universities for similar problems.

TTU’s graduation ceremony from 2013.

At the University of Tennessee-Knoxville last year, auditors took a sample of 40 student loan recipients and discovered five had probably already left school. Other students might have started attending less than half the regular time, auditors said.

Also last year, Auditors at UT-Martin sampled $392,582 in financial aid — out of a total $51.6 million given — and found two students received $18,527, even though they didn’t meet the university’s minimum academic standards.

Meanwhile, several Middle Tennessee State University students say financial aid workers give out student loans without much discretion, often to undeserving students.

The more student loans given, the more state employees are needed to process those loans, Tennessee Higher Education Commission spokesman Russ Deaton told Tennessee Watchdog last year.

Deaton said if you process student loans at a Tennessee university you probably have the safest job on campus, even when college presidents make drastic cuts elsewhere.

Federal guidelines help see to that, Deaton said.

Such was the case during the most recent recession, when funding for Tennessee’s colleges and universities dropped, and more of higher education’s revenue came from tuition increases, he said.

The U.S. government made $50 billion off student loans in 2012, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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