State suspends enrollment in PCC veterans programs
Pima Community College can't enroll military veterans in federally sponsored programs for at least 60 days. State officials imposed the penalty after two federal reviews found problems in the school's record-keeping procedures.
Pima's chancellor acknowledged the college "clearly dropped the ball."
The college is "taking immediate steps to address deficiencies in the services it provides to veteran education benefit students," spokesman C.J. Karamargin said in a news release Friday.
PCC is barred from enrolling new students in programs funded with veterans benefits, Arizona officials told the school Tuesday. Current students using veterans benefits — about 1,300 this semester — are not affected by the order.
"Pima clearly dropped the ball in the way we document and track the services we provide to our veteran education benefit recipient students," said Chancellor Lee Lambert said in the release. "We will move quickly to rectify the deficiencies and take steps to ensure they are not repeated."
Veteran education benefit recipients are students eligible for federal veterans education benefits, such as the Post- 9/11 GI-Bill or the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. Such students may include both military veterans, and family members using benefits under the GI Bill. Under federal regulations, schools must notify the government when these students drop out of school or take classes outside an eligible field of study.
A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in December and January found that the school continued a pattern of poor record-keeping found in a 2012 compliance survey.
"According to the VA, these were repeat findings from a previous compliance survey conducted in 2012. Pima developed a plan to fix the problems at the time but did not implement it," Karamargin said.
The amount of money involved is unknown, Karamargin said.
The plan to fix Pima's record-keeping was to be run by the school's provost office, which — along with much of the college's administration — has seen much turnover in the past 12 months as PCC works to get off a probation put in place by the Higher Learning Commission.
"We cannot let this happen again," Chancellor Lambert said. "Our veteran education benefit recipients deserve better from us. We need to fully comply with all federal laws and regulations, and state policies. Anything less than full compliance is unacceptable."
From the release:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs asked the state Department of Veterans’ Services to determine whether Pima should remain approved for VA benefit purposes after it found that PCC:
- Failed to accurately and promptly report enrollment, tuition and fees.
- Failed to promptly notify VA of changes that affect the amount of payment to beneficiaries
- Failed to ensure VA beneficiaries are enrolled in and pursing the approved program of study as certified.
- Failed to maintain a record of previous education and training of VA beneficiaries to grant appropriate credit, and to report the amount of credit to the beneficiaries.
The state agency, headed by Tucson Republican Ted Vogt, informed the college in a letter received Wednesday (see sidebar) that Pima cannot enroll any students in veterans' programs until a review is completed, following a site visit in June or July.
Although Lambert said "I have directed the appropriate offices within the College to make this matter their top priority. I fully expect that we will be able to regain the confidence of state and federal veteran’s officials over the next eight weeks so that we can continue to certify new veterans education benefit recipients for our summer and fall terms," the timeline laid out by the state may make it difficult to enroll new students in summer programs for vets.
"I'm confident that this problem is going to be rectified — at least in time for the fall," Karamargin said. "There's no excuse for this."
Pima will review about 3,700 student files during an audit over the next two months.
"We cannot let this happen again," Lambert said. "Our veteran education benefit recipients deserve better from us. We need to fully comply with all federal laws and regulations, and state policies. Anything less than full compliance is unacceptable."
"This issue is personal for me," Lambert added. "My father was career military and I am proud to have served my country in the U.S. Army. We are obligated to do the best job we can in serving those who served."