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College faulted for grant oversight

| Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Westmoreland County Community College failed to properly document services given to disadvantaged students under a nearly $279,000 federal grant, misused counselors paid through the grant and sometimes accepted ineligible students, according to a consultant.

Kimberly Washington-Pearse, president of Mt. Juliet, Tenn.-based Sangolade Educational Supportive Services, last summer evaluated WCCC's Student Support Services, which helps 225 students annually. Many come from low-income households, are first-generation college students or have disabilities.

Student Support Services is among programs the Department of Education offers to help such students. Schools receiving the money must provide academic tutoring, mentoring and financial aid counseling. Many offer career counseling and exposure to cultural events.

“When you don't have that support at home, it becomes difficult,” said Gary Means, director of financial aid at WCCC. “We become their support system to help get them through.”

The report, which the Tribune-Review obtained under the state's open records law, found WCCC's 25-year-old program had no formal student-intake process, lacked proper documentation and used some grant-funded counselors for general college needs.

“To be out of compliance in any area with the federal government is a big deal,” Washington-Pearse said. She said the college can use the report to prevent having to return any money.

WCCC President Daniel Obara said the community college intends to “have all those (issues) taken care of” by the start of the academic year.

For the 2010-11 school year, $5,000 of the $278,859 grant went toward paying the consultant, officials said.

WCCC received about 3 percent less for the 2011-12 year, or $270,214, because Congress cut program funding. The college expects to receive more than $4.5 million from various grants next school year.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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