In the Matter of
Knoxville College, Docket No. 94-175-SP
Knoxville, Tennessee, Student Financial Assistance Proceeding
Appearances: William A. Blakey, Esq., and Andrea Hefferman, Esq., Dean, Blakey, and
Moskowitz, Attorneys at Law, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.
S. Dawn Robinson, Esq., Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of
Education, Washington, D.C., for the Student Financial Assistance Programs.
Before: Frank K. Krueger, Jr., Administrative Judge
I find in favor of the Respondent on the issue of signed Student Aid Reports. On the remaining two issues, I find in favor of SFAP.
A Student Aid Report is a report provided to the applicant showing the amount of his or
her expected family contribution. 34 C.F.R. § 690.2 (1991, 1992, and 1993). A Valid Student
Aid Report is one [o]n which all the information used in the calculation of the applicant's
expected family contribution is accurate and complete. . . . Id. Although the Student Aid
Report form requires that it be signed by the student who is applying for the Federal assistance
(see Respondents's Exhibit F for an example of the form), there is no actual regulatory or
statutory requirement that the Student Aid Report be signed. Given the absence of any regulatory
requirement that the Student Aid Report be signed as a condition for receiving Federal student
financial assistance, and the absence of any evidence in the record of actual harm to ED or the
Federal taxpayers, I find that Knoxville College is not liable to pay back the Pell Grants for these
Unlike the requirement that a student applicant sign the Student Aid Report, the
requirement for verification is firmly ingrained in the regulations. See 34 C.F.R. §§ 668.54,
668.56, and 668.57 (1991, 1992, and 1993). Moreover, the regulations make it very clear that
verifications must be completed before any funds are disbursed. 34 C.F.R. §§ 668.58 and 668.60
(1991, 1992, and 1993). Thus, Knoxville College was in clear violation of these clear regulatory
The fact that Knoxville College has, several years after the awards were made, now
secured tax returns for some of the students' parents does nothing to minimize the violation. Risk
cannot be alleviated retroactively. Even if the students in question are retroactively determined to
be eligible, the failure to verify questionable information created a risk to the Federal taxpayer that
students not eligible for assistance were being awarded assistance. Thus, I find that the tax
returns are not material to the legal issue created by the failure of Knoxville College to perform
the required verifications. In addition, even if considered material to the legal issue being
considered, as noted by SFAP in its brief at pages 11-12, the tax returns proffered by Knoxville
College have little or no probative value.. For example, for Student #1, Knoxville was required to
verify the student's income, household size, and number of persons in the household attending
college. (SFAP Exhibit 2, p.11.) The income tax return for Student #1's parents does indicate
household size, but does not indicate the student's income or the number of family members in
college. For the remaining students for whom the tax returns of their parents are proffered, one
is not able to determine on the basis of the present record that these students were the same
students whose applications contained information requiring verification, or exactly what
information was required to be verified and how the tax returns for their parents provide this
verification. Thus, even if the tax returns were material, Knoxville College has not sustained its
burden of proof. See 34 C.F.R. § 668.116(d).
Consequently, I find that Knoxville College is liable to pay back $198,243 in unauthorized Pell Grants and $39,800 in unauthorized SEOGs. I also find that Knoxville College has a liability to ED concerning the Stafford Loans awarded to these students. This liability may be satisfied, as suggested by SFAP's brief at pages 12-13, by Knoxville purchasing the unauthorized loans from their present holders, including, for defaulted loans, ED or the guarantee agency. However, the liability may also be satisfied by determining the actual loss to ED concerning the unauthorized loans, using Knoxville's cohort default rates for the years in question, or by determining which of the students at issue actually have defaulted, and working out an arrangement whereby Knoxville assumes the risk for future defaults. See 34 C.F.R. § 682.609(a)(1994). In summary, Knoxville College must either purchase the remaining balances of the loans in question or reimburse ED for its actual present and future losses as a result of defaults on these loans.
The regulations in effect for the period in question, 1991-92, required that a participating
institution establish, publish, and apply reasonable standards for measuring whether a student
receiving Federal financial assistance is maintaining satisfactory academic progress in his or her
course of study. 34 C.F.R. § 668.14(e)(1991). Reasonable standards are defined as standards
which are the same as, or stricter than, those applied to students not receiving Federal financial
assistance. Id. at (e)(2).
The school catalog in effect for the period in question contains two sections which are
relevant to this issue (see SFAP Exhibit 3). The first section applies only to students receiving
Federal financial assistance and defines satisfactory academic progress in terms of credit hours,
although it references grade point average if applicable. The College notes that one of the
students in question was maintaining the required number of credit hours, and thus was in
compliance with the College's standards. However, a second section of the catalog, which
applies to all students, defines satisfactory academic progress in terms of grade point average, and
the student in question was not maintaining the minimum grade point average required by that
section. Counsel for Knoxville never cites, or even alludes, to the second section of the catalog
which requires that all students maintain a specified minimum grade point average. Simply
because there are separate standards which apply only to students receiving Federal financial
assistance, does not mean that those are the only standards which apply to those students. In fact,
34 C.F.R. § 668.14(e)(2) makes it clear that reasonable standards are, at a minimum, those
which apply to all students, not just those which are receiving Federal financial assistance. Thus, I
find that the two students in question were not maintaining satisfactory academic progress as
measured by Knoxville's own standards, and conclude that Knoxville's award of Pell and SEOG
funds to those students was a violation of 34 C.F.R. § 668.14(e), and that Knoxville College is
legally responsible for reimbursing ED $3,400 for those grants.
FURTHER ORDERED, that Respondent satisfy its liability for unauthorized Stafford
Loans awarded without the required verifications by purchasing the unauthorized loans from the
present holders of those loans, including ED and the guarantee agency, or reimburse ED for
actual present losses, plus actual or estimated future losses, resulting from defaults on those loans.
S. Dawn Robinson, Esq.
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Ave. , S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202