Howard University on Monday said six former employees misappropriated $369,000 in financial aid from 2011 to 2016, revealing for the first time the scope of the scandal that helped ignite more than a week of student protests.
The historically black university released a report on the investigation that led to the firing of half a dozen employees last year. What began as a routine internal review of the financial aid office in August 2016 resulted in the hiring of a forensic accounting firm months later, after a consultant grew suspicious about the awarding and distribution of university aid.
Investigators discovered that some employees who received tuition benefits to cover the cost of taking classes were also receiving university grants. That double dipping exceeded the cost of tuition and resulted in employees receiving refunds for the excess aid, according to the report.
Howard reviewed the records of 131 people who received the tuition benefit from 2011 to 2016. During that time, six individuals inappropriately were awarded or received about $90,000 in employee tuition benefits and $279,000 in university grants. Howard has not named any of the six employees. The university said that as matter of policy it does not disclose employee records to the public.
After firing the six employees, Howard has continued investigating the operations of its financial aid office and whether federal student aid funds have been managed properly. The school has hired financial aid consulting firm Third Coast Higher Education to assist in the process and to create an action plan with recommendations based on the review.
“Howard University is committed to uncovering any impropriety in the administration of university-provided financial aid and federal student aid, to remediating all problems identified during this investigation, and to maintaining a robust compliance program to prevent any inappropriate dealings in the administration of financial aid,” Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a letter to the school community Monday.
Howard leaders said they met Wednesday with U.S. Education Department officials. The federal agency is conducting a routine program review to make sure the university meets requirements to continue receiving federal loans and grant money.
While there is no definitive data on financial aid fraud involving university dollars, the Education Department’s inspector general routinely investigates school officials accused of misappropriating federal aid.
In the past three years, the inspector general’s office has been involved in nearly 40 cases of colleges and college officials misusing student aid funds. Some of those cases resulted in criminal prosecution, while others have been settled out of court or are ongoing. Some involve employees at for-profit colleges, while others involve staffers at institutions such as Baruch College in New York and Suffolk University in Boston.
Howard said it initially decided against going public with its investigation because of the ongoing review and had hoped to report the findings once the process concluded. But the school’s hand was forced after an anonymous item posted in March to the online blogging platform Medium alleged an “office-wide scandal” involving officials in the university’s financial aid department. The Medium post is no longer available online.