Feds ask about transcript changes at St. Cloud State University
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Officials with the FBI and U.S. Department of Education have begun investigating reports of student transcripts being secretly changed at St. Cloud State University.
The investigation comes after faculty members complained that grades they'd given students were later removed from transcripts without the professor's knowledge, a violation of university policy. Agents have interviewed at least two professors seeking more information, Minnesota Public Radio reported ( http://bit.ly/14V7Fjy).
"They were investigating the effect of transcript alterations, the removal of grades and the possible impact on financial aid eligibility," said Jack McKenna, a chemistry professor who met with agents Tuesday.
Jan Kircher, a professor of social work, said the agents who interviewed her were concerned about fraud and asking for the name of a student whose grade had been changed. She said she told them she didn't have records and couldn't provide them with a name.
University spokesman Adam Hammer acknowledged that federal agents were recently on campus.
"We don't know necessarily what questions they were asking individuals, but we do know they were here," he said.
The FBI said it's only playing a supportive role to the Department of Education in the investigation. The Education Department said it doesn't confirm or deny any investigation.
Faculty members' concerns were first reported about a month ago, after Professor Tamara Leenay came across the transcript of a student who failed an organic chemistry class she taught a few years earlier. She said the course had completely disappeared from the transcript, even though she had a record of giving him an F. She said she was never notified of a change.
Students can petition to have a course removed from a transcript. Professors say the move is sometimes appropriate in instances beyond a student's control, such as illness, family issues or military deployment. But under university rules administrators are required to notify the course instructor whenever they change a grade.
"The thing here is that they weren't being changed, they were going away," faculty association president Stephen Hornstein said at the time. "And we weren't being informed of that."
The two professors' comments about fraud led one education expert to speculate that the federal investigation revolves around financial aid fraud.
Ginny Dodds, who manages state financial aid programs at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said students who receive financial aid have to maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0. So if a failing grade is removed from a transcript that could increase the student's GPA enough to remain eligible for financial aid, she noted.
University officials who investigated the situation reviewed a sample of 237 student transcripts changed between July 2011 and June 2012. They found that administrators consulted faculty in 69 percent of the changes. In the other cases, it wasn't clear whether administrators failed to notify the faculty member or whether the professor failed to respond to a request for comment.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org