A delay in federal student aid prompted a delay in this month’s payroll for somewhere near 200 employees of Arkansas Baptist College.
Dr. Joseph Jones, the college president, said the employee in charge of submitting paperwork for payment of federal grants for students had submitted it late and that, in turn, meant late payment of the money. Without it, the college couldn’t issue July 1 paychecks.
Jones said the college received the roughly $400,000 in federal payments today for 122 students enrolled this summer and checks would be issued Tuesday, a cumulative $350,000 to something less than 200 employees. Both enrollment and employment are lower in summer than during the regular school year.
Jones, who became president a year ago, said the college attempted to submit claims for reimbursements (required on a monthly basis because the college is on heightened monitoring by the federal Department of Education because of past financial difficulties) by the 20th of each month. He said he’d learned on June 22 that the material still hadn’t been submitted and didn’t get submitted until June 27, despite his effort to hurry the process. It takes four or five days for processing, he said, plus this pay period included a federal holiday on July 4.
“The reason for a late submission came down to an employee who is no longer with us,” Jones said. He said steps had been taken, principally bringing the financial aid office into the business office, to be sure such a breakdown wouldn’t happen again. He said the problem “absolutely” was not a reflection of larger problems. The college in November was cleared from a show-cause status by the Higher Education Commission, its accrediting agency, but was kept on continued monitoring by that agency as well.
The college underwent a growth spurt under the leadership of a previous president, Fitz Hill, but also brought on a cash crunch. Hill continues as head of a nonprofit foundation established to raise money for the school. A $30 million federal loan in 2014 was described as a long-term solution to the college’s cash-flow problem. However, Jones arrived on a campus that had some lingering issues. A decline in enrollment brought some payroll reductions in March. A verified coun in January put enrollment at 606, where it had been reported at 843 in fall 2016.
But Jones said today, “We’re fine. This was an employee who didn’t do his job and it cost his job.”
Jones said he believed in transparency. He said he’d sent three e-mails to campus employees, the first Friday, June 30, to prepare them for the possibility of a late paycheck and the last on July 7 saying pay would likely be July 11.
He said he’s working on a “financial recovery road map” that will outline future budget plans for the college and that it will be posted on the school website this summer.