The first rule of government error: The taxpayer always loses.
Last week, the College of Southern Nevada announced it had made recurring, significant mistakes in calculating federal financial aid for students during the previous two academic years, and that as a result, the U.S. Department of Education wanted a more thorough review of the school’s books.
The exact figures on overpayments and underpayments are still being calculated, but a majority of the errors involved overpayments. However, students who collected more money than they were eligible to receive won’t have to reimburse taxpayers. In those cases, the college will repay the federal government. Meanwhile, students who were underpaid can collect what they didn’t receive. Some 13,000 federal financial aid recipients from the past two years have been flagged for potential overpayment or underpayment.
In a letter sent to the Board of Regents last week, CSN President Michael Richards wrote, “For too long, this department has experienced management transitions and limited staffing as demands for student financial aid escalated.” Please. If that were the case, why did Santos Martinez, CSN’s vice president of student services and top financial aid official, resign the day before this disaster was made public, thereby ensuring yet another “management transition”? The college’s errors included poor verification of eligibility, miscalculating the costs of part-time students and providing outdated applications. That’s human error, and it smacks of poor training and poor oversight.
In that same letter, Mr. Richards said the college’s first priority is protecting students who were unaware they received an incorrect amount of federal financial aid. Federal law already ensures student privacy in such matters. How about protecting the taxpayers who subsidize CSN, Mr. Richards?
The public deserves an accounting of these mistakes, down to the last dime, as well as a credible plan that ensures such mistakes won’t happen again.