Ah, to be a college loan officer -- like Ellen Frishberg, head of Johns Hopkins's financial aid office. She received more than $60,000 in tuition and "consulting fees" from Student Loan Xpress.
Or Walter Cathie, dean of the financial aid office at Widener. He ran a company called Key West Higher Education Associates that held student-loan conferences, and Student Loan Xpress gave the company $80,000 to send representatives to the conferences.
Or John Ryan, State University of New York chancellor. Ryan is on the board of directors of CIT Group. Student Loan Xpress is not only part of CIT Group, but is coincidentally the preferred lender of SUNY.
All of the above information is from the New York Attorney General's Office.
And then there's Matteo Fontana, the general manager of the National Student Loan Data System, "a central database for student aid," according to CBS.
Fontana, CBS reported, "is a "former stock hold[er] in a leading student-loan company, including the federal direct loan program and Pell Grants."
More than 100 universities throughout the Northeast have become embroiled in an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
The student-loan scandals are only growing worse. There's already been calls for Congress to take legislative action, and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts is pushing the issue.
The last thing Penn needed after a fall and winter of bad press is to be included in the investigation.
Unfortunately, we were.
Penn recommends certain lenders to students and Citibank's CitiAssist program has been the most highly recommended. Because the program was so popular, officials in Penn's Office of Student Financial services realized they had leverage. They negotiated with Citibank and got a bulk discount, which included lower rates for students and contributions towards Penn's financial aid program.
"At the time this was being negotiated, Penn was confronted with multiple priorities . get good interest rates for our students, and . money for financial aid," explained Frank Claus, head of SFS. "At the time we believe we achieved both goals."
Citibank gave Penn about $1.6 million toward financial aid. It's not hard to understand the concern. The deal smells a little fishy, at least from afar, and it's been more than a little fishy at other schools.
However, the propriety of Penn's Citibank recommendation hasn't been disputed. Penn's mistake was failing to disclose the arrangement to students they recommended get a loan from CitiAssist.
In the settlement, Penn agreed to redistribute the disputed financial aid funds to these students. The settlement also stipulated that Penn sign a code of conduct that bans "receiving anything of value from any lending institution in exchange for any advantage sought by the lending institution," and instructs that they must "clearly and fully disclose the criteria and process used to select preferred lenders."
While Cuomo certainly has reason to be going after some schools, it was an honest mistake at Penn. "We viewed it as a good decision . because [Penn] needed those funds" for financial aid, Claus said. "We didn't even think of whether we had to disclose. It was just 'wow, we were able to get some funds.'"
Upon hearing about the arrangement, though, not all students felt that it was win-win.
Their complaint is that Penn, rather than negotiating an even lower rate for the individual student, got money towards financial aid instead, and thus created a kind of back-door tax on the borrowing student.
Penn isn't abandoning CitiAssist, but it is getting rid of the old agreement. It will continue to recommend students, but only under the condition that CitiAssist now offer Penn students subprime interest rates.
This means that the University will no longer get money for financial aid from Citibank. But officials promise that this won't dramatically change the amount of aid they distribute annually.
"There will be some degree of less funding for financial aid, . but in the big picture, it's probably not overwhelming because the aggregate is so big," Claus said.
The only thing scarred is Penn's reputation. Words like "kickback" and "scandal" are being thrown around in the media, and Penn's name is at the top of stories which detail blatant conflicts of interest and shady deals.
Even though we settled and admitted the mistake, the cloud of corruption can't help but drift south.
Alex Weinstein is a College senior from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Straight to Hell appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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