LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
An audit by the U.S. Department of Education claims Philander Smith College owes the department more than $400,000 in mishandled student aid funds. College officials have accepted responsibility for $430,078 worth of aid, but dispute figures that would boost the total owed to $477,029.
The Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, which conducted the audit, has recommended that the historically Black college be ordered to adopt a reimbursement plan to repay the money. The office also recommended sanctions against the school.
Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of the 585-student school, estimated the college has already returned about $100,000 to the federal government.
“The positive thing about an audit … is that it gives you a complete picture as to where you are when you got there,” Kimbrough told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We look at it as a sort of playbook that says if we do these things, it will strengthen our institution.”
According to the audit, many students made loan payments to the college’s business offices which were never credited. Eighty-eight students received financial aid even though they had stopped attending classes. And five of the 20 aid recipients randomly selected by the inspector general had no verified information on file. The issued led the report to conclude that the entire $11.4 million in Education Department funds that Philander Smith disbursed in fiscal year 2004 “might be at risk for similar misuse.”
But Kimbrough says there have been several changes made since he took the reins in 2004. He says the majority of the financial aid office staff has been hired since 2005, including its director.
Kimbrough told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the college also has introduced a system for tracking students who receive federal aid.
“We look forward to showing [the inspector general’s office] and our stakeholders in the college that we can manage the program effectively,” he says.
— Associated Press and staff reports
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