The Technical College of the Lowcountry is being investigated by the South Carolina inspector general for sending active duty military students to collection agencies for unpaid tuition, according to documents obtained by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
The state inspector general received a confidential complaint alleging that numerous active duty service members from the Marine Corps Air Station and Parris Island Recruiting Depot, whose tuition should have been covered through the U.S. Department of Defense tuition assistance program, were wrongly sent to collection agencies after attending courses at the college, according to the documents.
The two-year, state-assisted community college only receives 18 percent of its operating budget from the state, so it relies heavily on the tuition and fees charged to students. When students ignore their bills, they’re sent to collection agencies.
The complaint alleged that TCL “failed to process and transmit” tuition assistance invoice paperwork to the Department of Defense, which may have hurt students’ credit reports “with no action taken by TCL to assist in the removal of the collection records” from the affected students’ reports.
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The Inspector General’s Office declined comment.
TCL said it was first alerted of the issues in February, when the Base Education Office at Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort told it service members were receiving calls from collection agencies.
At that time, administrators did a review that found about 35 percent of the forms submitted around February 2018 were rejected and had to be resubmitted to the federal invoicing office in charge of validating funding for each active service members’ coursework, according to TCL’s response to the complaint.
Andrew Smith, vice president of administrative services at TCL, could not say how many TCL students had been affected in recent years due to the errors.
“My focus is how we move forward and not what I believe would be an exhaustive research process that I don’t think would provide the net of detail that we need to gain because of the broad allegation,” Smith said.
Employee turnover, a lack of understanding about tuition assistance coverage and forms filled out improperly all helped cause the issues, Smith said.
“While the college, at the end of the day, needs to be the responsible actor in the overall situation, some responsibility is shared by the students,” he said.
One change that has been made since February is Smith is now reviewing cases before they are referred to collections.
Otherwise, the inspector general’s review continues and Smith reiterated his intent to look ahead, not back.
“Quite frankly, my focus now is how we improve the process and how we move forward,” he said.