Broward College paid $5.6 million after a federal government review determined that more than 2,000 students received financial aid they weren’t entitled to.
The payment, imposed by the U.S. Department of Education, is significantly more than the $18,000 the college said in 2015 that it would likely have to pay after an initial federal review. At that time, the college acknowledged only that eight students were improperly paid.
The final amount became public this month after the education department, which oversees federal aid, posted detailed reviews for 242 colleges and universities completed during the 2016-17 fiscal year. Seven other colleges in Florida also were required to pay back financial aid dollars, including Barry University in Miami Shores ($106,304), Hillsborough Community College ($343,039) and Stenotype Institute in Jacksonville ($3.03 million).
Broward College spokeswoman Lesli Franco said the college paid the full $5.6 million in May. She said no students will have to repay financial aid money they received improperly.
The hefty payment came at a time when the college was already struggling financially. In June, the college said it was increasing class sizes, cutting vacant positions and closing an academic site in Coral Springs due to a $5.1 million decline in revenues. The college lost $2 million to state cuts and several million more in tuition dollars due to enrollment declines, officials said. College administrators did not mention the $5.6 million financial aid repayment when they discussed the cuts at a Board of Trustees meeting in June.
“No institutional budget cuts resulted directly from the return of funds,” Franco said, adding that the college used one-time reserve funds to pay the federal government.
Most of the problems identified in the financial aid review involved students who declared themselves as nursing majors from 2013 to 2015. The college disbursed about 1,970 Pell Grants — federal dollars for low-income students — to indivduals listed as nursing majors, but those students weren’t enrolled in a nursing program or any other degree program that would qualify them for the aid, the review found. The nursing program has selective admission, and many students who wanted to enroll never got admitted.
The review also found that the college paid larger Pell Grants to some students than they should have received, based on the number of credit hours they were taking. Some students received these dollars despite not taking enough courses or maintaining a high enough grade point average to qualify.
College officials say these issues have been corrected.
“The college has taken significant steps to ensure that it is a best practice institution when it comes to satisfying the expectations of the U.S. Education Department,” Franco said.
This includes making leadership changes, contracting with financial aid experts to improve the financial aid department and providing more training to financial aid staff.
The associate vice president for financial aid resigned under pressure in 2015 and was replaced. The college said at that time it had also fixed computer glitches that led to some problems.