Home Features Financial Aid Why a Great Financial Aid Person is Worth Her Weight in Gold
Why a Great Financial Aid Person is Worth Her Weight in Gold

Why a Great Financial Aid Person is Worth Her Weight in Gold


By Glenn Bogart, J.D.

Recently a school owner friend called. She had a program review report “requiring” two-year file reviews for two attributes – failure to complete verification, and failure to document high school graduation. I told her the first thing we need to do is to figure out whether the findings are legitimate. That is rule number one in responding to a program review.

Over my past 30 years in compliance work, there have been many times when individual student findings in program reviews have proven to be inaccurate. A file review requirement forces you to examine all student files for whatever regulatory violation is alleged in the program review finding. The requirement generally is predicated on the Department’s having found violations in more than 10 percent of the program review sample.

Completing and reporting on a file review is a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. That is especially true when the Department requires you to pay a CPA to pray over the results – which is what’s required if you’re proprietary. If you’re non-profit, maybe not. Either way, you don’t want this.

So, is there any way to fight a file review requirement? Yes. There are at least three ways of doing this.

The first way is to prove that the sample of files reviewed by the program reviewers was not random, but rather, was selected judgmentally with a view toward picking files that are most likely to exhibit a violation.

Example: You look at all the files in the program review sample and learn that every one of them claimed to have graduated from an out-of-state high school. That is not going to happen in a random sample at a school where 80 percent of the students graduated from local, in-state high schools. It’s worth looking into this kind of skewing of the sample. Most program review teams would not do this. All of them? Maybe not. I don’t know these people, and neither do you. If you find something like this, you can slam them good, and get out of the file review requirement, most likely.

The second way to fight a file review requirement is to prove that the individual student case findings are not legitimate. In a typical program review, a sample of 30 students is selected. If they find four violations in that sample of 30, a file review will be required. In the case of the program review which prompted me to write this piece, four violations of the verification requirements were cited. As it turned out, one was incorrect on the facts of the case, and two were ok under current Department of Education guidance. There was only one case of a possible violation, and we might beat that one, too.

Here is where it’s really helpful to have a financial aid officer or director who really knows what he or she is doing. In this case, the FAO insisted that in one of the cited cases, her actions were endorsed by a Dear Colleague Letter. In another, she had an Electronic Announcement from the Department which supported her actions. And she was right.

Truthfully, I am not sure I would have found these Department of Education documents without her help. Maybe I would have, maybe not. Unquestionably, the school owner saved a lot of money in fees to me, because she didn’t have to pay me to research this. The FAO presented me with the proof without my having to lift a finger. My letter to the Department, requesting relief from this file review requirement, practically wrote itself, thanks to this extremely savvy financial aid officer.

Oh, by the way, the third of the four verification “violations” was just a case where the program reviewers based a finding on the student’s second ISIR, rather than the third one, where the problem complained of had been corrected.

So, three out of the four citations were incorrect. It turned out that the error rate is not 13.33 percent — it’s only 3.33 percent. No way a file review requirement is justified.

What about the other finding, the one on high school diplomas? Well, the program review sample contained 15 students from 2015-16 and 15 students from 2016-17. The school’s policy did require the collection of proof of high school graduation, so the Department is right to expect the school to collect and examine these documents.

But three of the four violations were from 2015-16, and only one was from 2016-17. This justifies a file review requirement for 2015-16, but not for 2016-17. We pointed that out in our initial response, sent only a few days after receipt of the program review report. Just by doing that, chances are that the Department will now limit the file review to just one year, instead of two – which will save a lot of time and money.

It pays to get the best financial aid director you can get. The one I am talking about here is the financial aid boss for a beauty school chain consisting of two schools. So, don’t tell me you can’t find a good financial aid director. They are out there. Especially now, when so many schools have closed.

How do you find a financial aid director like that? Well, it would help if your applicants were interviewed by somebody who knows financial aid. Find out what your applicants know. Credentials on paper are no substitute for knowledge. Being the president, or president-elect, or immediate past president of the state financial aid officers’ club, is proof that a person has good social skills, and nothing more, although there are many such people who do know financial aid. But political skills do not necessarily equate to professional skills. Don’t exclude these people, but find out what they know before you hire them. Who they know will not help you much, come program review time.

The best financial aid person I know does not have a college degree. I have a J.D. and a ton of financial aid experience, and I’m good at what I do. But if I have a financial aid litigation problem I can’t figure out, often I will call her.

Don’t use a degree as a way of screening financial aid officer applicants. That’s a big mistake. Instead, get someone with a lot of financial aid experience to interview all applicants who claim FA expertise, to find out what they know. Otherwise, you may well be rejecting people who will do a superior job, just because they don’t have degrees or political ambitions and skills. I’ll take somebody who knows what they’re doing over someone who has a master’s degree, political skills, and no real knowledge, every time. Make them prove they know what they’re doing, whether a high school graduate or a Ph.D. That’s what’s important if you are looking for proper financial aid administration and protection against program review disasters.

Glenn Bogart

GLENN BOGART, J.D. is a Title IV compliance consultant who specializes in school compliance reviews and Department of Education program review responses and appeals. A former ED program review officer, he holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Southern Illinois University, and earned the Juris Doctor degree at Western New England University in 1986. He resides in Birmingham, Alabama, but travels all over the U.S.
Mr. Bogart started his consulting business in 1992, after having served briefly as director of internal audit and compliance at Phillips Colleges, Inc., and prior to that as corporate vice president for financial aid for another large group of proprietary schools. Over the years, he has contributed frequently to these pages.

Contact Information: Glenn Bogart, J.D. // 3216 Buck Horn Cove // Birmingham, AL 35242 // 205-249-5453 // glennbogart@aol.com // www.glennbogart.com


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