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Howard University Faces Whistleblower’s Exposure of Financial Aid Fraud

Six Howard University financial aid employees were fired in 2017 over misconduct

On March 28, Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick confirmed six financial aid office employees at the school were fired in 2017 after an internal investigation over misconduct and neglect of duties. The firings had not been previously made public.

The school’s response comes in the wake of an anonymous whistleblower who published several screenshots in two Medium blog posts from Howard University’s Financial Aid database which display several financial aid staff members paying out financial aid rewards to themselves, in far excess of the school’s tuition fees and legally permitted allotments.

The screenshots are from Howard University’s Oracle database, which the school confirms it uses on its website.

Tyrone Lasalle Hankerson Jr. and former Associate Director of Financial Aid Brian Johnson were cited in the screenshots to receive large financial aid awards between 2013 to 2017.

In 2013, Johnson received tuition remission totaling more than $68,000 one year. The current estimated cost of attendance for Howard University is $43,501.00, which includes room & board, meal plans, tuition, books, and transportation.

According to Johnson’s LinkedIn Profile, he served as Associate Director of Financial Aid at Howard University from August 2014 to August 2016, and previously served as Manager for Special Awards from June 2013 to August 2014.

The author shared additional screenshots of Hankerson’s financial aid award payments on Twitter. In 2015, Hankerson was cited in an article published by Campaign for America’s Future as a work-study employee in the Howard University Financial Aid office, one who “ has managed to head into graduation without student debt overhanging him personally.”

The anonymous author of the Medium posts created a Twitter account, which shared several Howard University students sharing their personal bad experiences with financial aid at the school.

“Federal student aid is subject to a cost of attendance limit. If a student is over-awarded, certain types of federal aid must be reduced. One of the screen shots shows federal education loans being reduced. The Federal Pell Grant, however, is never reduced. It is technically possible for a private scholarship or institutional grant to be over-awarded, if the scholarship or grant does not have a cost of attendance cap, but that would be unusual.” said Mark Kastrowitz, founder of FinAid, college planning author and former curator of the student loans topics page for the New York Times,  in an interview with me. “The screen snapshots appear to show aid being awarded in excess of the cost of attendance. That does not necessarily mean that the aid was disbursed, but it is a red flag.”

Kastrowitz noted federal rules stipulate separation of duties among financial aid staffers, requiring that the same person or office cannot award financial aid and disburse it to prevent fraud from going undetected, Because of this financial aid fraud typically requires coordination between people in the financial aid office and the bursar’s office. He added, “ Colleges and universities are also required to have other internal controls to prevent fraud. Students working in the financial aid office should never have the ability to change financial aid awards.”

Over the past few years, Howard University has grappled with debt problems. In 2016, the Washington Post reported the school has “roughly $22 million in uncollected tuition.” The school reportedly kicked out 200 dorm residents from the school for owing money, as several students have struggled with the costs of attendance. The Post noted, “the financial aid office could be quicksand and chaos at once, where aid could be seriously delayed or riddled with errors.”

In a statement, Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick told me, “I was alerted in December 2016 that there may have been some misappropriation of University-provided financial aid funds. From the moment I was alerted that there may have been a misappropriation of funds, I have taken this situation extremely seriously. I immediately informed the Board of Trustees, and together we moved swiftly to begin an internal investigation.”

Dr. Frederick noted the internal investigation concluded in May 2017, finding that some individuals received inappropriate financial aid refunds. He argued the funds were a combination of university grants and tuition remission provided to some university employees, and did not include federal or donor directed funds.

He added, “An investigation of individual employee actions was completed in September 2017 and as a result, six employees have been fired for gross misconduct and neglect of duties. We will refer this matter for criminal prosecution, as appropriate.” It’s unclear why this matter had not been referred to criminal prosecution immediately after the school’s internal investigation found wrongdoing.

Students at Howard University have increasingly criticized Dr. Frederick’s Administration. On March 25, a group of student activists, Howard University Resist, called for Dr. Frederick’s resignation and a demand of several reforms to mitigate rising attendance costs, address student homelessness, and expand transparency throughout the school’s administration.

 

Written by Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a freelance journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has been featured in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Denver Post, The Hill, Observer, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @msainat1.

Michael is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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Howard University Faces Whistleblower’s Exposure of Financial Aid Fraud