August 27, 2021
The U.S. Department of Education mistakenly provided too much federal coronavirus relief money to some colleges that received funding, a government watchdog agency found.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed 4,764 colleges that received the funds and estimated more than 5% of them, or 262 schools, got more funding than they should have been allocated.
GAO officials discovered three instances among schools they reviewed in which institutions received more funding than was allocated. This excess funding totaled $20 million.
In July, the GAO evaluated the department’s effort to distribute more than $76 billion in higher education relief funding Congress approved in three major aid packages. This money was earmarked for colleges to help defray pandemic-related costs and assist students the health crisis had disadvantaged.
The department’s Office of Postsecondary Education is charged with dispensing the aid funding. It normally distributes about $2 billion in grants annually, according to the GAO. But as of the end of May, it had sent out about $66 billion in relief dollars, 33 times the typical amount.
The office used existing staff to fulfill these extra duties, but the volume of funding and the urgent need to get it to colleges “increased the risk of payment errors,” the GAO said.