There could be “as many as several dozen” MU student accounts being scrutinized this week in connection with a ProPublica Illinois investigation that showed parents from the Chicago suburbs had given up guardianship of their children so they could obtain financial aid.
MU spokesperson Christian Basi said the accounts were being analyzed using a number of data points associated with students’ personal and financial records to determine if they are in fact eligible for aid.
“We know what we’re looking for,” Basi said.
Although ProPublica’s investigation focused on students and families in the Chicago suburbs, there is evidence that this practice is happening nationally, Basi said.
However, the university has not yet discovered any in-state cases.
“To date, we haven’t seen any of these type of thing coming from in-state Missouri students,” he said. “But we do know that this is not something that is confined to Illinois, based on conversations that we have had with other colleagues around the country.”
The investigation by ProPublica Illinois revealed parents have been manipulating their children’s guardianship status to gain need-based financial aid from universities in the Midwest — MU among them.
The investigation, published Monday, showed how parents gave up legal guardianship during their children’s final years of high school to qualify their children for financial support they would not otherwise receive.
ProPublica found more than 40 such cases filed between January 2018 and June 2019 in Lake County in suburban Chicago. ProPublica said it was still looking at records to determine the scope of the practice.
MU draws more students from Illinois than any other neighboring state. There were 4,454 students from Illinois enrolled at MU last year, according to university data.
Four of 5 MU students receive some form of financial aid through scholarships, grants and loans, according to MU’s website.
The financial aid granted to students who don’t qualify for it hurts the resource flow of MU, which could use the funds elsewhere, whether it be for assisting other students or for university investment.
“It’s very, very frustrating that someone with obvious financial means would take advantage of the system to the point where they are creating a drain on public taxpaying and tuition dollars,” Basi said.
He also emphasized the drain on university resources such as staff time, as staffers in the financial aid office must commit time to investigating the flagged accounts. He was unable to comment on how many university employees were involved in the investigation.
The university is unlikely to ever publicly release information on the investigation, Basi said, because students’ private information is involved.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.