Imagine you received financial aid to help pay your pricey college tuition bill. Then, out of nowhere, the university demands the money be returned to government because the grant was given to you by mistake.
The nightmarish scenario has come true for nearly 1,300 students at Florida State College in Jacksonville, Fla.
On Monday, officials at FSCJ announced that another 500 students may be forced to repay their Pell Grants. The Pell Grants were granted not through the initial application process, but rather, were given to students submitting appeals without proper documentation. This number is in addition to the initial 780 students affected.
These 500 new cases occurred in the 2011-2012 year. FSCJ does not yet know the exact amount of money they owe the federal government, but have hired a consulting firm and will provide the number by September 14.
Earlier this summer, a federal review found that the school erroneously awarded about 780 students with Pell Grants in the 2010-2011 school year, resulting in a $2.8 million dollar loss.
Though the school originally set aside $3 million to cover the costs, officials confirmed it will likely not be enough.
Bill Scheu, a Jacksonville attorney who is reviewing the college’s policies, criticized FSCJ saying that the staff was not properly trained to distribute Pell Grants, and that the financial aid director had a "laissez-faire process."
"I don't think I'm going to assess any blame," Scheu said according to The Florida Times Union. "I'll just say there were institutional failures."
Pell grants are typically awarded to low-income undergraduates based on financial need. The amount given to each student depends on a variety of factors, including status as a student, financial need, and overall tuition. Most critically, Pell Grants are not loans and therefore not repaid.
This story has been updated to clarify that the Pell Grants were student appeals and not normal applications.