WASHINGTON – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill could be at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding after an investigation made public last week revealed new details about an 18-year academic fraud scandal.
Both the U.S. Department of Education,which gave about $16.7 million to UNC in the form of education Pell grants during the 2013-2014 academic year,and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges,which accredits universities to determine their eligibility for federal student aid,are closely monitoring the events in North Carolina.
The commission’s president,Belle Wheelan,said she plans to launch a special review process of the university’s accreditation in the coming days.
The review could end with the university being given a warning or being placed on probation,which Wheelan said is more likely than a loss of accreditation. Still,she declined to eliminate the possibility of dropping the university from accreditation.
“We just got the report last week,and we have to go through it,” Wheelan said.
The university wasn’t scheduled for a regular review until 2016,but Wheelan said a special review is necessary because of details released in last week’s report.
In the results of an investigation sponsored by the university,details emerged about 18 years of UNC classes that didn’t involve any student interaction with professors and required only one paper at the end of the term. These papers were graded without being read by a professor,and students received consistently high grades in these “paper classes.”
Student athletes were especially likely to take the classes,with their enrollment making up 47 percent of the courses’ enrollment,according to the report. Academic counselors specifically steered athletes struggling academically toward these classes.
Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein conducted the eight-month investigation,which relied on interviews with 120 witnesses and 1.6 million documents,including emails.
If the board decides to strip the university of its accreditation,it would no longer be eligible for money the federal government gives it under the Higher Education Act of 1965. That includes federal grants,loans and work-study programs.
Losing that seal of approval could lead to lower interest in the university and could decrease the value of graduates’ diplomas.
Department of Education spokeswoman Jane Glickman declined to speculate about what action it would take,saying the department would wait until it had all the facts before deciding whether to take action. For now,Glickman said the department doesn’t believe the university specifically violated any rules outlined in the section of the Higher Education Act that provides for student aid,though it could still lose federal funding if it is dropped from accreditation.
During the 2014 academic year,federal funding at the school came mostly in the form of $175 million in loans,in addition to Pell grants.
In the 2013 academic year,the most recent year for which the department has data on certain programs,the university received about $2.1 million in grants and federal work-study programs for needy students.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did not immediately return a voicemail message left Wednesday afternoon by the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.
Reach reporter Sean McMinn at [email protected] or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter .