Texas Southern University President John Rudley has crossed the final item off the to-do list he created when he took the top job at the historically black university in early 2008.
The U.S. Department of Education has decided to waive $11.7 million in debt owed the federal government by Texas Southern University. The debt had lingered for 13 years, through three presidential administrations, and started out as a $40 million penalty issued by the education department in 1996, following its finding that TSU couldn't prove all federal financial aid went to eligible students.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, interceded on TSU's behalf.
“It was a steep mountain to climb,” the Jackson Lee said Monday.
The decision means TSU can instead use that money to improve its academic programs, said Provost Sunny Ohia.
“We still have a lot of work to do, with growing our enrollment and improving the quality of our academic programs,” he said.
Boosting online programs
One initiative will be to expand the number of programs offered online, Ohia said, noting that online programs are a good option for people who work full time but are expensive to create.
The original penalty was reduced to $15.7 million in 1998 during the Clinton administration. Talks continued throughout the administration of President George W. Bush, even as the school paid off almost $4 million of the debt.
Jackson Lee said a settlement appeared imminent several times but apparently lost momentum when responsibility was shifted around the department.
TSU argued that the Department of Education relied on a faulty statistical analysis to determine how many ineligible students received financial aid; Jackson Lee said school administrators provided records to support its claim that the problem was less widespread than it originally appeared.
She met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan soon after he was appointed by President Barack Obama, and he named a new team to reconsider the issue.
Jackson Lee said the reorganization begun under Rudley played a role in the decision, as did TSU's focus on underserved students, one of the Obama administration's priorities.
Department of Education officials did not return telephone calls Monday to explain their decision, or why the matter took so long to resolve.