Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation are pressuring the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider awarding funds to two universities in the state to help low-income and first-generation college students go to school.
West Virginia University and West Virginia State University both recently lost thousands of federal dollars because of small clerical errors on their applications for the programs.
At WVU, school officials rounded up a figure on its application by $2 and lost more than $200,000 that would have funded its McNair Scholars program. At WVSU, the school mistakenly added $104 on a supporting document with its application and lost half a million dollars that would have funded its Upward Bound program.
Because of those mistakes, the federal department would not consider either application. Last week in a congressional committee meeting, the head of the federal department overseeing those funds, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, said she would not reconsider WVSU’s application.
“You owe it to the students at these institutions who are enrolled in these programs to take a second look at these applications,” wrote Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., in a letter to DeVos. “Hardworking students should not be punished and denied the opportunity for an education because of unintentional clerical errors.”
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is working with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation and supports any efforts to change the department’s mind, according to his chief of staff, Mike Hamilton.
“It’s unfair to punish deserving students for a clerical error,” McKinley said in a statement. “TRIO and Upward Bound programs provide valuable services to first generation college students, and I have been an advocate for these programs. I urge the Department of Education to reconsider their position and accept the applications from WVU and WVSU.”
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., sent a letter to DeVos asking for the funding to the programs, according to his spokesman. The spokesman would not provide a copy of the letter to the Gazette-Mail.
When DeVos was confirmed to her position in February, West Virginia’s two senators were split on the vote. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito-R-W.Va., voted in favor of her confirmation, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not.
Capito said in a statement that she had spoken with DeVos Tuesday afternoon, asking her to reconsider the schools’ applications.
“As a long-time supporter of TRIO programs, I understand how they benefit young West Virginians and [I] will continue to fight to restore this funding until the administration agrees to reconsider their position,” Capito said.
Manchin said that, because many families in the state have low incomes and don’t have the resources to help their children prepare for college, DeVos should reconsider.
“As the Secretary of Education, it is your job to put the needs of students above bureaucratic red tape,” Manchin wrote in a letter to DeVos. He later added, “I urge you to again take a commonsense approach and offer these long-standing Upward Bound programs the opportunity to apply to continue to serve the students of West Virginia.”