Six days after University of Central Arkansas auditors released a report that revealed the university had scholarships without criteria and that staff had approved or renewed scholarships for which students may not have qualified or didn’t have paperwork, President Tom Courtway moved scholarship duties away from officials who had said they fixed the problems.
The move is permanent, said spokeswoman Fredricka Sharkey in email Thursday.
On Tuesday afternoon, Courtway sent an email to UCA trustees saying Financial Aid will move under finance and administration. On Wednesday morning, Courtway met with at least one official in charge of scholarships — Robert Parrent, vice president for enrollment management, who oversaw some responsibility for renewing scholarships. The email message, sent late Tuesday afternoon, requested the meeting to “discuss scholarships.”
Parrent referred all questions to Sharkey who did not answer a list of questions emailed to her by deadline Thursday. Parrent said previously he and others had put in place steps to solve problems highlighted in the audit released last week.
In the email to trustees, Courtway said he ordered the Office of Institutional Research to review and analyze “all scholarships offered at UCA.”
Courtway’s decision to compile a list of scholarships is tied to the audit findings, said Pam Massey, Internal Audit director. The audit, finished Feb. 19 and presented to the Audit Committee on Feb. 21, looked at academic institutional scholarships, which are entered through Financial Aid and renewed under Enrollment Management, she said.
However, different departments and entities at UCA handle scholarships, Trustee Bunny Adcock said.
Courtway returned one call and left a message but did not return a subsequent call seeking comment on why he is moving scholarship duties now.
Newton and Runge did not return email inquires seeking comment Thursday.
Scholarship money runs in the millions at UCA, according to university documents. The university spent about $17.6 million on unrestricted educational and general scholarships in the last school year, according to a survey submitted to the state higher education department. That amount doesn’t include all money for scholarships and aid, Adcock said.
Including federal, state, university and private money, scholarships represent about $40 million, Adcock said. But different departments have overseen different scholarships for years, he said. That makes tracking those scholarships difficult.
The report Courtway hopes to compile will address all the scholarships, their funding, budgeted amounts, criteria, renewal requirements, appeals, when each was created and which division or department is responsible, according to Courtway’s email.
UCA has struggled with its scholarships for years, according to a memorandum by Julia Winden Fey, vice president of enrollment management.
The memorandum was attached to the resignation letter of an employee earlier this week.
Scholarships became controversial under then President Lu Hardin, who awarded scholarships at his own discretion, Adcock said. In the most-recent report, auditors noted former President Allen Meadors created a scholarship with no awarding criteria. That award has been discontinued, officials said.
Employees working with scholarships talked about difficult working conditions during the Audit Committee last week.
On Monday, Winden Fey said in her memo that problems included hiring employees who didn’t know scholarships were part of their responsibilities, a lack of training and administrators’ lack of direction. She wrote Enrollment Management staff had never had any training on processing scholarship renewals, even as technology changed.
Winden Fey said UCA’s broad-based approach to scholarships created problems, including overspending that was corrected in 2009, the lack of “common standards” and lack of a “targeted, planned approach to scholarship spending.”
Administration also decided not to fund a consultant team to help fix problems, Winden Fey wrote.
She also pointed out the need “for a centralized Scholarship Office” that was mentioned in at least two reports. Parrent also said previously that UCA needed to centralize its scholarships and add staff.
Winden Fey said in the past staff were asked to “make awards for which no awarding criteria nor maintenance criteria nor even set amounts were given,” she said.
Staff had been directed to create new scholarships immediately, including an award created under Hardin for children of two families featured on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in 2007 and 2008, Winden Fey and Sharkey said in documents.
Combined, UCA offered those children $224,000 in scholarships. One of those students plans to attend UCA this fall, Sharkey wrote.
“If the student attends, this would be the first of any of the scholarships that were offered,” Sharkey said in email.
The recent audit looked at a sample of scholarships, but auditors plan to investigate other scholarships, including honors, tuition waivers, athletics and performance scholarships, Massey said.
Adcock said what Courtway “is doing is healthy.”
Auditors found flaws, the Audit Committee met and discussed those findings and remedies are in the works, he said. Compiling scholarship data will help sort out what scholarships are out there and what entity is over them, Adcock said.
“You’ve got to know what you are dealing with before you can deal with it,” Adcock said.
(Staff writer Scarlet Sims can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)
To see the most recent audit, click here.