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College grants questioned

A recently released state audit found that Gaston College didn't administer a state child care grant correctly and awarded some of the money to college employees “under questionable circumstances.”

The nearly $40,000 grant is designed to help students who are parents cover child-care expenses. The audit says seven of 21 people who received the grant didn't apply for financial aid or have their income verified as required.

Five were employees who took a one-hour yoga or child development class during or after work to qualify as students, the audit said. Among these employees was child care director Michelle Scarlett.

“Awarding funds to these employees appears to be outside the purpose of the grant,” the audit reads.

Ralph Huddin, the college's vice president of finance, operations and facilities, said the administration recognizes the mistake and it won't happen again.

Huddin said the college had been awarding child care grants to employees for about four years. Though Scarlett was in charge of the grant for the past eight or so years, Huddin said she was following guidelines that multiple administrators had agreed on.

He said the idea came up in a roundtable discussion after the college had turned back nearly half of one year's award for lack of applicants. Huddin said administrators thought they should find a way to make use of the leftover funds and there was nothing in the grant description expressly excluding employees.

This past academic year, the financial aid director noticed employees on the list of grant recipients and flagged administrators.

After consulting the N.C. Community College System, Huddin said, the college decided employees would no longer get grants, even if they were taking a class. By February, he said, the financial aid office had taken over administering the grant.

Chris Mears, spokesman for the Office of the State Auditor, said it's probably not unusual for grants to be used for self-interest because there's not much oversight of how the money is spent. He said his office doesn't normally audit grants unless there's a special circumstance. A confidential source asked them to look at this one, he said.

Mears said his office hasn't found problems at Gaston College in the past few audits, which are conducted every two years. Officials said Gaston College won't be asked to return any of the funds, nor will any grant money be withheld this year.

Kennon Briggs, chief financial officer for the NCCCS, said he thought the college never intended to violate any rules, and did due diligence to fix the problem.

“I haven't seen a college move as quickly to change their policy,” he said.

A recently released state audit found that Gaston College didn't administer a state child care grant correctly and awarded some of the money to college employees “under questionable circumstances.”

The nearly $40,000 grant is designed to help students who are parents cover child-care expenses. The audit says seven of 21 people who received the grant didn't apply for financial aid or have their income verified as required.

Five were employees who took a one-hour yoga or child development class during or after work to qualify as students, the audit said. Among these employees was child care director Michelle Scarlett.

“Awarding funds to these employees appears to be outside the purpose of the grant,” the audit reads.

Ralph Huddin, the college's vice president of finance, operations and facilities, said the administration recognizes the mistake and it won't happen again.

Huddin said the college had been awarding child care grants to employees for about four years. Though Scarlett was in charge of the grant for the past eight or so years, Huddin said she was following guidelines that multiple administrators had agreed on.

He said the idea came up in a roundtable discussion after the college had turned back nearly half of one year's award for lack of applicants. Huddin said administrators thought they should find a way to make use of the leftover funds and there was nothing in the grant description expressly excluding employees.

This past academic year, the financial aid director noticed employees on the list of grant recipients and flagged administrators.

After consulting the N.C. Community College System, Huddin said, the college decided employees would no longer get grants, even if they were taking a class. By February, he said, the financial aid office had taken over administering the grant.

Chris Mears, spokesman for the Office of the State Auditor, said it's probably not unusual for grants to be used for self-interest because there's not much oversight of how the money is spent. He said his office doesn't normally audit grants unless there's a special circumstance. A confidential source asked them to look at this one, he said.

Mears said his office hasn't found problems at Gaston College in the past few audits, which are conducted every two years. Officials said Gaston College won't be asked to return any of the funds, nor will any grant money be withheld this year.

Kennon Briggs, chief financial officer for the NCCCS, said he thought the college never intended to violate any rules, and did due diligence to fix the problem.

“I haven't seen a college move as quickly to change their policy,” he said.

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