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July 24, 2014

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Another CSN administrator resigns after financial aid flap, citing overwork

A second administrator at the embattled College of Southern Nevada has resigned, citing difficult working conditions in the aftermath of a massive error in financial aid payouts.

CSN’s associate vice president for financial aid Brad Honious submitted his resignation letter on Tuesday.

The news came less than a month after the community college admitted it overpaid and underpaid federal financial aid money to hundreds of students over the past two school years, costing CSN more than $792,000 so far.

Honious, who began his position in March, said he was just three days into his new position when he received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education, citing concerns about CSN’s financial aid audits. CSN is Nevada’s largest higher education institution, serving more than 40,000 students.

A further investigation by a third party found several “processing errors,” which led to federal money being over-awarded and under-awarded to CSN students.

The community college is on the hook for $792,339 for the 2011-12 school year, which will have to be repaid to the Education Department. Financial aid awards for the 2012-13 school year are still being assessed.

CSN attributed the incorrect financial aid disbursements to “human error in the financial aid verification process.”

CSN spokeswoman K.C. Brekken said the community college has reimbursed students who have been under-awarded in financial aid. Currently, CSN is working with the Education Department to finalize the amount of money it will need to repay the federal government for over-awarding financial aid to students.

CSN also is in the process of hiring a company specializing in financial aid and federal compliance and will conduct an analysis of its financial aid processes, policies, operations and training, Brekken said.

“Addressing the problem in financial aid is a top priority for the college,” Brekken said in a statement. “Employees in the financial aid department and elsewhere at CSN have been asked to go above and beyond until the final verification of award files is complete and the problems that led to these errors addressed.”

However, Honious said going “above and beyond” to do his job has hurt his health, forcing him to resign.

Honious, who was previously the financial aid director of Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., said he regularly worked 12- and 15-hour weekdays as well as weekends to resolve the financial aid problems at the college.

Honious said his staff have been asked to work through lunch and work longer hours to fix the financial aid problems.

The work took a toll on Honious’ health. Honious said he was hospitalized for three days in July after suffering fatigue and chest pains that he says is a direct result of his work at CSN.

“I was working seven days a week, trying to fix the mess I didn’t create,” Honious said. “I can’t do this anymore. My health is more important.”

Honious blamed CSN’s “understaffed” and “overworked” financial aid department for the errors. He said his staff was hardworking and well-meaning, but were simply overwhelmed to process the financial aid documents accurately.

For example, CSN’s due date for collecting tuition is more than a month and a half before classes start. This puts incredible pressure on the financial aid department to quickly process financial aid disbursements between the end of one semester and the beginning of another, Honious said.

Furthermore, CSN has allocated 27 full-time positions, three currently unfilled, to its financial aid department. CSN has added back staff since the 2011-12 school year, when it had 18 financial aid officers on staff.

However, for the number of financial aid awards it disburses, CSN should have at least 43 staffers, Honious said.

“They have good staff people there who are very good,” Honious said. “But they’re at their wit’s end. They just don’t have time to do it properly, so of course they’re going to make mistakes. And it’s not going to get any better if they don’t put resources into (the department).”

Brekken said the college has furnished its financial aid department with additional software and staff. In early spring 2012, the college began to add additional staff to the department, she said.

“I think we can all agree that there has been a history of inadequate staffing in this area and other at the college due to attrition, hiring freezes and limited resources,” she said.

Honious' resignation comes less than a month after Santos Martinez, CSN's vice president of student affairs, resigned. Martinez, who was appointed to the position in June 2012, oversaw CSN's financial aid program, among other services such as counseling, registration and tutoring.

CSN would not comment on Martinez's or Honious' resignations, citing confidential personnel matters.

CSN's executive director of business services Dan Morris is now overseeing financial aid at CSN in the wake of the two departures.

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