Financial Aid Mistake Hurts Students

Financial Aid Mistake Hurts Students

Blake Roberts, Staff Writer

“While We Live, We Serve.” The Financial Aid Department of Presbyterian College exemplifies this motto. PC is extremely generous with both academic and athletic scholarships. Some students would be unable to attend this school if it were not for these scholarships. However, due to a recent mistake, some students have been rewarded more than they were promised.

The problem is so big, affecting 147 students, that the Student Government Association is now involved. The Executive Cabinet, headed by SGA President John Turnbull, has sent a student resolution to Dr. Claude Lily and the Administrative Leadership Team.

In this resolution, the Executive Cabinet voices it’s concerns, stating that they “are disturbed that the PC Administration has made decisions which will harm her students,” and that they “are struggling to trust the ability of our Financial Aid Department to perform adequately when they have not publicly announced the origin of their error.”

“I think that administration, up to this point, has not done a great job at consulting the student body as a whole,” Turnbull said. “I hope that with the resolution that was passed…the administration will begin engaging the student body.”

This is a thorny issue deserving of discussion. It is not fair to students’ families who have already budgeted their finances around scholarship amounts that suddenly are no longer correct.

Junior Graham Hope, president of the Political Action Association, supports letting the affected students keep the extra money. “It’s called an award for a reason,” he said.

Demanding the money back could have repercussions not just for students but also for Presbyterian College itself.

“They will ask the affected students to take out additional loan to cover the difference,” Hope said. During a time when students and families are struggling to make ends meet, additional debt can only cause problems.

Deborah Thompson, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Communications, who has been charged with sorting out this discussion, pointed out that PC is not forcing anyone to take out loans. “If they were eligible for additional loan funding, I did tell them…I did not ask anyone to…decide right now…I encouraged them to talk wth their families,” she said.

“The last thing the PC Community needs is graduates who are struggling to pay off federal loans…that weakens the capacity of our alumni associations to support the college,” Hope added.

However, President Claude Lilly was present at the House meeting this past Sunday, and available to answer questions. He was able to clear the air concerning several aspects of the issue.

While the actual total amount of money erroneously handed out changes every week due to new errors being found, Dr. Lilly stated that he believed the number to be “north of a million,” and that he had hired a forensic financial specialist to find the issues.

Most of the money incorrectly given out came in the form of additional scholarships that the students did not earn. For example, students that had never had a relative attend PC suddenly received the Legacy scholarship.*

The error came about, not due to a computer glitch, but human error. No money was stolen, so fraud did not occur. When asked why the person did it, Dr. Lilly stated, “I ask that question myself.”

As for re-obtaining the money, every avenue was explored before the decision was made that the students would simply have to give the money back. There is not enough money to cover the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, most donations are earmarked for a specific purpose, and to use it in any other way “would violate a significant number of federal laws,” Dr. Lilly said. A payment plan has been set up, allowing the students to pay back the additional funds by May of 2014.

Regrettably, some students have claimed that they will have to leave PC due to this mistake. This is a tragic consequence caused by a few people’s negligence. While there is no absolute guarantee that this will not happen again, Dr. Lilly assured the SGA that anyone who repeated this mistake would face “a short career,” and that PC will continue its legacy of generous financial aid.

*No federal loans, like the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship, were misappropriated. I would like to apologize for any miscommunications and errors previously found in this article.