Morris Brown’s Financial Aid Practices
Under Federal ScrutinyATLANTA
Federal authorities are investigating the possible misuse of millions of dollars in student financial aid at Morris Brown College, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported late last month. Morris Brown obtained federal grants and loans for students who were ineligible for aid, according to U.S. Department of Education records obtained by the newspaper through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Morris Brown must repay $5.4 million to the federal government because it hasn’t proven the aid went to the right students between 1995 and 2002. It owes more than $1 million to the state. The federal review began in April 2001. A department review during the 2000-2001 school year showed discrepancies that could have led to the school getting $3 million more than it was due. If the state can’t justify the discrepancies, it will have to return that money as well.
Records show a Morris Brown employee in January downloaded $8 million in federal aid using the school’s computer network without notifying the department.
Most schools access federal funds as they process student aid applications. But Morris Brown had been instructed to ask for federal permission six months before the incident because of its history of mismanaging student aid.
Bishop Frank Cummings, chairman of the trustees board, said the board didn’t know of the severity of the school’s financial problems. He said he repeatedly asked Dr. Dolores Cross, then the school’s president, about them but was told everything was fine.
“When I found out they had drawn that ($8 million) … I hit the ceiling,” Cummings says.
After the withdrawal, the department required Morris Brown to provide student loans with its own funds then seek reimbursement — a restriction rarely placed on a college.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission, the state agency overseeing financial aid, received dozens of calls as far back as 1994 from students and parents complaining about financial aid problems at the school.
In February 2001, the Georgia Student Finance Authority, a lender of student aid, said it would no longer give loans to Morris Brown students.
School president Dr. Charles Taylor said sloppy record-keeping, an inexperienced aid staff and frequent shifts in staff and management are to blame for the problems. He said the private college is $23 million in debt. Cross and former financial aid director Parvesh Singh quit earlier this year.
Since the fall semester began this year, the school has not received any financial aid money because of inaccurate or incomplete records it repeatedly submitted, according to federal records.
Taylor, who took charge of Morris Brown in mid-September, said the school is frantically trying to get its records in order.
“If I don’t get this cleaned up now for these students who are currently enrolled so we can turn on the resources spigot … we won’t be here,” he said.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed Morris Brown on probation in December 2001 for shoddy record-keeping. A crucial accreditation review is scheduled this month. The agency will decide whether to end probation or strip Morris Brown of its accreditation. More than 90 percent of Morris Brown’s 2,547 students depend on financial aid.
In a separate investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office is looking into allegations of student visa fraud at the school.
Last month, a federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Morris Brown marketing professor Julu Kothapa and another man, Syed Nusrat Amhed. Both were accused of helping several hundred foreign nationals — mainly from India and Pakistan — get illegal student visas.
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