Federal audit leads to two findings at California Lutheran

Students tend to add classes, then stop attending without officially dropping the course, without giving it a second thought.

It might be that they are extremely busy, have other things going on, or that they just simply forget to go online or to the Registrar’s office and officially drop. Although not ideal, this has not been an issue in the past.

After a recent federal audit however, California Lutheran University has decided to take action in order to assure that the issue is taken care of in the most efficient way possible.

Maria Kohnke, the associate provost and registrar at Cal Lutheran said even the slightest compliance problem counts as a finding when it comes to federal audits, as the government wants to assure that its taxpayer dollars are being used correctly.

“It is a zero tolerance thing so you have to get it 100 percent right in everything they look at. Even if it’s really minor, it still has to be reported as a finding,” Kohnke said.

This year, after completing a federal audit, it was discovered that Cal Lutheran, much like other universities, had not been reporting when students had dropped out of classes in a timely manner.

This might not seem like a huge issue, but when students receive financial aid from the federal government but stop attending class, questions arise as to why taxpayer dollars are not being used for other purposes.

Leanne Neilson, who is the provost and vice president of academic affairs, oversees all academic programs on campus.

“They [the two findings] relate to academic affairs, but they are directly related to financial aid. That’s the critical piece. The federal government provides financial aid for a lot of our students here at Cal Lutheran. They have certain deadlines for receiving information from Cal Lutheran about students, and they’ve added new rules and regulations in recent years,” Neilson said.

The new set of rules and regulations will assure that the government is aware of when students stop attending class.

“They’ve put a rule in place that we have to notify the federal government if a student stops attending class at a certain date. If they’re receiving financial aid and they stop attending, we have to give the date of when they stopped attending,” Neilson said.

When students stop attending a course without officially dropping, it affects them in different ways. Kohnke described how not officially dropping a class can affect a student.

“Academically, it counts as an F and they have to repeat the class or do something [take another class] because the F counts against their GPA. The federal government says, if you stop attending short of finals and that causes you to fail the class, then they want us to return the Title IV grant money,” Kohnke said.

Jerry McKeen, director of financial aid at Cal Lutheran explained in a phone interview that the system at Cal Lutheran is like one big machine that works together, and how important it is to report when students stop attending class.

“That’s why we need to report on time and the institution needs to know, to make sure that we’re giving the proper amount of money,” McKeen said.

Although not all students who drop a class will be immediately affected by these findings, it is important that the university is aware of what is going on.

“When a student withdraws from a class, it may not affect their financial aid. It’s hard to put that into context, but each student is a case-by-case basis. It depends on how many hours they started with, it depends on what eligibility factors come into play, but generally if a student leaves a class, it doesn’t always immediately impact their financial aid,” McKeen said.

The findings are not anything to be worried about, but rather to be aware and conscious of.

“ What we’re putting in place is going to take care of the questions that were raised and it shouldn’t pose any kind of problem for the future. We will be tracking more closely for students, so if students aren’t attending class that is an important message for them to know. If they stop attending class and they are getting federal financial aid, it could have the effect that they have to send the money back,” Neilson said.

Natalie Kalamdaryan

Senior Writer

Published September 24, 2014