Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Review Traces FSCJ Pell Grant Problems; Lax Financial Culture Basis for Student Aid Foul-Up, Board of Trustees Told

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Review Traces FSCJ Pell Grant Problems; Lax Financial Culture Basis for Student Aid Foul-Up, Board of Trustees Told

Article excerpt

Byline: Adam Kealoha Causey & Kate Howard Perry

A "lax culture" and poorly trained staff led to at least 1,300 Florida State College at Jacksonville students receiving Pell Grants they may have to repay, according to an outside review.

Jacksonville attorney Bill Scheu on Tuesday presented the FSCJ Board of Trustees with a 20-page report that said staff didn't even know about policies it should have used to decide when to award the money. He interviewed campus deans, presidents and upper level administrators to produce the document.

Scheu criticized former financial aid director Joel Friedman, saying he instituted a "laissez-faire process" but resisted placing fault with current senior administration.

"I don't think I'm going to assess any blame," Scheu said. "I'll just say there were institutional failures."

Friedman, who left the college in June 2009, declined to comment.

Scheu recommended employees involved in awarding the grants keep their jobs. The board voted to extend contracts for those 12 workers - including Financial Aid Director Michelle Bowles - through November.

Among Scheu's other recommendations:

- Change the mindset among students and staff so that financial aid is not seen as an entitlement.

- Centralize the financial aid appeal process rather than having it operate campus-by-campus.

- Strengthen staff training on the appeals process.

Deans at each campus reviewed appeals when a student failed to meet academic standards required for financial aid. A state audit early this year found the college often approved students' appeals despite lacking documentation to prove exceptions, such as an illness, a family death or a military deployment.

In May, FSCJ officials began sending letters to about 780 students who received $2.8 million in grants for the 2010-11 school year after initially being rejected. The college said Monday at least 500 students may have to repay grants received for 2011-12. …

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