UW-Whitewater addressing procedures after state audit reveals gaps in student withdrawal system

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Andrea Anderson
Saturday, March 29, 2014

WHITEWATER—A state audit is requesting UW-Whitewater take a closer look at student attendance to determine where as much as $365,457 in federal student aid has gone.

The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau report released this month reviewed $12.5 billion in federal assistance to the state for the prior fiscal year that is administered by state agencies.

Ten federal programs accounted for the majority of the $12.5 billion in federal financial assistance. The UW system is one of them, according to the report, with $1.9 billion in assistance. Of that $1.9 billion, $1.8 billion went to student financial assistance or development and research grants, according to the report.

The audit found up to 129 students at UW-Whitewater could have been considered unofficially withdrawn, resulting in the Financial Aid Office completing return-of-funds calculations and federal aid not being returned to the government.

When a student withdraws from a school, he or she may no longer be eligible for the entire amount of originally awarded aid.

When a student doesn't earn a passing grade in at least one course in a specific period, the school has to assume the student has unofficially withdrawn, unless it can prove otherwise.

For example, some of the 129 students from the summer 2012 semester to the spring 2013 semester who received all “F” grades may have, in a sense, earned their financial aid by going to class but not passing.

A return-of-funds calculation must be done by the school for each student who has officially or unofficially withdrawn.

According to the report, UW-Whitewater instructors are supposed to give students who stop attending class an “L” grade and students who drop a class a “W” grade. Those two classifications would be considered unofficially withdrawing. But Whitewater instructors weren't doing that.

Instructors gave “L” grades to students who never attended class and “F” grades to students who attended one or more classes and then stopped going. 

And that is the problem, said Jeff Arnold, vice chancellor for administrative affairs.

The report “was helpful and pointed out that we need to do a better job in communicating grading policies to the faculty,” Arnold said.

It's difficult to pinpoint when a student leaves because attendance is not typically taken, Arnold said. So it is assumed that when a student receives all failing grades, he or she left mid-semester and 50 percent of the financial aid will be reimbursed.

The audit is intended to comb through finances, but also to identify strengths and weaknesses in programs and procedures.

The Legislative Audit Bureau recommended UW-Whitewater create procedures to ensure all unofficially withdrawn students are identified and appropriate calculations are completed so student financial assistance can be returned to the federal government.

The university is already working to address procedures and completing necessary calculations, Arnold said.

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