Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Editorial: Colleges in W.Va. suffer another blow caused by state

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

As if the West Virginia legislature’s action to cut state support for higher education wasn’t enough, now we learn that tardiness on the part of someone in state government could complicate the finances of the state’s colleges and universities even further.

The latest blow is represented by the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to impose sanctions on the state regarding the way federal funds for students’ Pell Grants and federally subsidized loans are distributed. Until now, the federal government would give the money for those student grants and loans directly to the institutions, after which the schools would distribute the money to students.

Now, however, the colleges and universities will be required to come up with money first, record how the money is distributed and seek reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Education sometime later. That could cause some significant cash flow problems for some of the state’s institutions.

The change means that West Virginia’s public colleges need to come up with $245 million in the next month.

The reason for this extra stress? The sanctions resulted because West Virginia submitted its audit of federal dollars disbursed to the state past the required deadline for three consecutive years, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Federal regulations classify financial audits submitted late as a sign of financial irresponsibility, and that triggered the sanctions, the newspaper reported.

The latest annual audit was due March 31, but the federal department said in a letter to the state that it didn’t receive it until nearly two months later.

It’s not clear who dropped the ball on this matter, but Gov. Jim Justice said he intends to find out.

This example of ineptitude on the part of someone comes after the legislature passed a budget that continued the trend in recent years of cutting state funding for public higher education institutions. The colleges and universities have trimmed their spending as a result and have raised tuition. But many of them struggle to have significant amounts of cash on hand, and being required to come up with money for student grants and loans and then seeking reimbursement will only add to their financial burdens.

Officials say the colleges and universities submitted their data on time to the state, so they are not to blame. Justice said he will determine who was at fault and take actions to ensure that future audits are not submitted late. He plans to ask the state’s congressional delegation to try to persuade the Department of Education to change its stance.

Let’s hope that works. Meanwhile, determining what went wrong and how to get back on track with the audits may help improve the situation in the future.

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