One student at Boise State University in Idaho who received more than $4,200 in federal aid while in school got a degree in social science after taking 13 physical education courses including "Coed Bowling," "Coed Billiards," "Advanced Weight Training" and "Coed Jogging."
His best grades were in independent study courses on "Sexuality and the Male Athlete" and "Behavior of the Christian vs. Non-Christian Child." He got 4 Fs, 11 Ds, and withdrew from eight courses; the school waived its usual standards to let him graduate.
A student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta collected nearly $16,000 in government aid in five years, but earned only 65 credit hours and had a 1.35 grade point average. During his last two years, he passed only one course and should have been ineligible for his last $9,000 in federal assistance.
A student at State Community College in East St. Louis, Ill., received $8,400 in seven years while completing only 35 of 215 credit hours. She took the same speech course eight times and the same sociology course five times without passing either.
Another student at Morris Brown received nearly $12,000 in aid in three years, but because of withdrawals earned only 14 credit hours with a .62 grade point.
A new General Accounting Office report cites such examples to support its conclusion that some schools have set inadequate "academic progress standards" for students receiving federal financial aid and have failed to enforce the standards set. As a result, it said, many students are abusing programs that totaled nearly $8 billion in fiscal 1980.
Too often, it said, students whose grants it reviewed had low grade points, or withdrew or failed so many courses that they were far behind any generally accepted pace toward graduation. About 20 percent of the Pell grant recipients studied had less than the 2.0 grade point required for graduation, and about 10 percent had less than a 1.5, a D+.
Although the report made no attempt to project its results nationwide, it estimated that millions of dollars are being spent unnecessarily on students who probably won't graduate. The problem, it said, "threatens to undermine the integrity of the financial aid programs."
The study was begun by GAO and completed for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. It contained examples without the names of the schools or students because it was trying to illustrate a potential national problem. The students' names are protected by the Privacy Act. The schools' names were supplied by other sources.
During their survey GAO investigators examined a random sample of nearly 6,000 student transcripts at 20 colleges scattered across the country. They ranged from the University of Florida and Southern Illinois University to Miami-Dade Community College and Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Presidents of the affected schools expressed disbelief or chagrin at the news in the report. Rosetta Wheadon, head of State Community College, said she couldn't believe a student could go to her school for 7 years and earn only 35 hours.
Robert Threatt, president of Morris Brown, acknowledged that "to some extent, maybe we didn't monitor satisfactory progress as closely as we could have." But he said the school had tightened its standards.
Richard Rapp, financial aid officer at Boise State, said he didn't recognize the student from his school but said "there's bound to be some cases" on a campus where one-third of the 12,000 students receive financial aid.
Of the grants that were reviewed, $3.9 billion worth were administered by the Department of Education; $2.3 billion by the Veterans' Administration, and $1.6 billion by the Social Security Administration. Several million college students receive such grants each year.
The GAO concluded that the VA had the best standards, but said a uniform federal policy on "academic progress" is needed. Supporters of the programs responded that stricter voluntary guidelines had been approved for many universities and colleges earlier this year.
The report comes at a time when budget director David A. Stockman has proposed cutting the basic Education Department program for low- and middle-income students, the Pell grant, from its current $2.6 billion a year to $1 billion in fiscal 1983.
Jack Peltason, president of the American Council of Education, an umbrella group for higher education, said that such cutbacks would be a "revolutionary" change in the relationship between the federal government and the higher education community. "The states and the private sector couldn't possibly pick up the slack," he said.
He fears that as a result only children from wealthy families will be able to attend top private colleges, he said.
Charles Saunders, ACE director of government relations, said the proposed cuts would slash the Pell recipient rolls by 70 percent, or 1.9 million students, and lower the income eligibility to $6,000, below the poverty level.
Peltason said that the nation's universities "do not countenance any kind of cheating and we have moved vigorously to stop it. But if you have millions of students getting grants there are going to be some abuses."
James Moore, a Department of Education student aid official, said voluntary standards developed by ACE to monitor academic progress would be included in regulations the department expects to issue early next month. "Then we'll have to burn a few institutions to make them know we're serious," he said.
Moore said that if department auditors found students receiving aid in violation of the academic progress standards, their schools would be forced to pay back the grant money. "There will be a few public hangings," he said.
Because of the proposed cuts in student aid, he noted, "schools will darn well have to put their money on the front runners" and not on those who aren't serious students.