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Pritzker orders staff probe of college aid scam

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants his administration to investigate reports of potential tuition assistance fraud in Illinois.

A report from ProPublica Illinois found wealthy parents used a legal process through the courts to transfer custody of their children to other guardians so the child can be eligible for tuition assistance like Illinois’ Monetary Assistance Program, which provides need-based grants to students that do not need to be repaid.

Asked about the report Wednesday in Chicago, Pritzker called it fraud.

“It’s terrible … There are more people applying for Monetary Assistance Program money than there are dollars that we could provide,” the governor said. “So if people are defrauding the system, these wealthy parents are literally committing fraud here, we need to go find them, root it out, and make sure those dollars go to the right people.”

Pritzker said the state has limited funding available for a limited number of qualified students “which we increased by 10,000 more students just this Spring.”

“We want it to go to the students who are most in need, not the people who are defrauding the system,” Pritzker said. […]

After the ProPublica report, Pritzker said he asked his staff to get to the bottom of it.

“So we need to look into it to make sure we are identifying people that are doing this, calling it out and making sure that we are preventing it from happening in the future,” he said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

50 Comments
  1. - Wowzers - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:12 pm:

    Don’t mind the Gov looking into it but shouldn’t it also be part of the AG’s office as well?


  2. - Perrid - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:14 pm:

    I agree with him 100%, but the whole toilet thing really softens the blow coming from him. It’s even more ironic because it might actually be a (repugnant) legal loophole, again like the toilet thing (yeah, investigators that looked into the property taxes said it looked like actual fraud but I think that’s questionable).


  3. - Ron Burgundy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:16 pm:

    Good for him for taking steps to make sure it won’t happen anymore. I applaud that. I am not sure however if it is “literally fraud” because the student obtains that status via the blessing of a judge. Improperly gaming the system? Absolutely, but I am not sure any crime has been committed. Two things they can do would be for schools to do a more thorough examination of the financial circumstances and background of students with guardians or claiming to be emancipated from their parents. Who is really supporting them in their daily life? Where are they living? Etc. and guardianship laws need to be tightened to require more scrutiny by judges before agreeing to such arrangements. If the petition recites the guardian will provide better financial opportunities, ask them if they plan to pay for college. If the answer is No, you might want to deny.


  4. - Evanstonian - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:17 pm:

    What kind of reprehensible, sick far-too-wealthy individual manipulates the law to save a few bucks? Good on JB for calling out those who will use their wealth to navigate loopholes the rest of us can’t afford to.


  5. - OOO - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:17 pm:

    Anyone else feel the hypocrisy here?

    And just exactly what will he investigate? Multiple sources have already said that this is legal. Maybe he should stop the faux outrage and just work on the reform?


  6. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:18 pm:

    Merit scholarships would deter some of this.

    MAP and merit scholarships would keep more students in Illinois.

    Students leaving Illinois are those not scamming, but are lost to us as a state that should be here getting degrees.


  7. - Rod - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:21 pm:

    Well if the guardianships were established using false statements as the Governor claims from the families involved the AG should clearly be looking at that issue. But that would have to be investigated on a case by case basis.


  8. - lakeside - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:37 pm:

    I will stipulate that I’ve always felt the toilet thing was a kind of, ‘rich dudes gonna do,’ but no one was living there (I will also stipulate that I don’t feel the same about the Ricketts prop tax workaround because they were fully living in that property, etc., etc.)

    But, come on, people are saying their kids aren’t their kids anymore for this scam. Rich kids. Come on. This is such a scam. It points to the deep need to reform our system, but only the families with high-powered attys figured out how to play the system in this way.


  9. - Iggy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:39 pm:

    college is incredibly expensive in this state. middle class families have to struggle to put a kid through college and they often times do not meet the threshold for federal or state aid. Going after regular people for playing a game to help their kids is absurd.

    Lower the cost of college, reduce the bloated administration salaries, and then we wont have this problem. till then, look the other way on this because it isn’t fraud. it is equalizing.


  10. - Nick Name - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:41 pm:

    So, so refreshing to have a governor with a sense of civic responsibility.


  11. - Iggy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:42 pm:

    = families with high-powered attys figured out how to play the system in this way.=

    Incredibly false. Went to college with a kid who went off his parents guardianship and over to his older sister’s legal guardianship and was able to qualify for more aid. He did it without an attorney. This is not a rich family issue, it is a middle class problem.


  12. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:45 pm:

    College is expensive. It has always been expensive. It will always be expensive.

    It’s still worth it.


  13. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:46 pm:

    ===This is not a rich family issue, it is a middle class problem.===

    This is probably most true.

    The selling point of merit scholarships, for example is…

    “We’re going to educate you, and it won’t cost you. You earned a merit scholarship, no matter your family income or status. Can Illinois universities match?”

    … and that’s how middle class families started sending students to Iowa State, Kentucky, Missouri… Alabama.

    Too much money made for MAP, not enough income to help with education… why not look for places “giving away” merit money?


  14. - Cubs in '16 - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:47 pm:

    Iggy-
    The article in yesterday’s Cap Fax stated many of these students come from “wealthy families” including doctors and attorneys.


  15. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:49 pm:

    ===It has always been expensive.===

    It was easier to “afford” or take loans to help.

    Loans now are the cost of 2-bedroom condos.

    Every 19 or so hours, during the 400+ days Pritzker ran for Governor, he spent the equivalent of a four-year collegiate education… $180-220K

    Every… 19 hours…


  16. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:51 pm:

    Further…

    Pritzker spent the equivalent of a four year education, tuition, fees, room and board… for 500+ students.

    500+ students, four years of full college.

    Think on that.


  17. - Because I said so.... - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:54 pm:

    After 4 years of Rauner starving higher ed, we are lucky none of the universities closed although a few came close.

    I too think this is a middle class problem. Those are the families who struggle the most to pay for college.

    I heard the reporter who broke the story this morning on NPR and I was startled to learn how easy it is to change guardianship. Maybe the courts should be taking a closer look into the reason for the request before granting this to anyone who completes the paperwork.


  18. - VerySmallRocks - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    I recall when I filled out my kids’ FAFSA’s a little over a decade ago that if there was any indication of family support for (I think) up to 3 years previously, that they had to have parents’ income and asset included. How does this custody stuff skirt this? Somebody help me out? Thanks, VSR.


  19. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    Sorry Willy, I don’t get your point on this. What does his campaign spending have to do with this?


  20. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:58 pm:

    There is an economic theory called “cost disease” that helps explain why college and health care inflation is so high. It’s complicated, but the bottom line is, as college and health care costs go up and up and up, the cost of food, cars, electronics, etc. goes down over time.

    One key difference between now and say, forty years ago, is that 40 years ago not every decent-paying job required a college degree. Today, most good-paying jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree.

    Any strategy that successfully lowers the cost of college (or health care), will almost certainly lower the quality.

    This guardianship thing is an attempt to game the system and it’s perfectly legal. It’s also entirely outrageous. The solution seems to be to place some additional barriers or check points into the guardianship process and not simply allow these changes to go through unquestioned.

    Change the law to require some verifiable basis before new guardians can be appointed.


  21. - Cheryl44 - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:04 pm:

    I don’t quite get how adults are still considered minor children needing guardians. But that’s just me.


  22. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:05 pm:

    ===I don’t get your point on this. What does his campaign spending have to do with this?===

    Priorities. What a dollar means.

    Folks who can afford things, do.

    Folks who can spend the equivalence of 500+ full four year educations spend too.

    Dollars. That campaign is the equivalency of 500+ college educations.

    Perspective.


  23. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:07 pm:

    === The article in yesterday’s Cap Fax stated many of these students come from “wealthy families” including doctors and attorneys. ===

    I could be wrong but I don’t think the article mentioned the professions of the families undertaking this scheme — I think that may have been in the comments. I think any reports that refer to this as a scheme of the “wealthy” are probably just being loose with the facts and wrongly assume that if one lives in a north suburban community one is wealthy. My guess is that those doing this scheme are middle to upper middle class folks struggling to pay for college — not the family making $500,000 a year.


  24. - JoanP - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:12 pm:

    @Just Observing:

    From the Cap Fax post, quoting Propublica:

    “The parents involved in these cases include lawyers, a doctor and an assistant schools superintendent, as well as insurance and real estate agents. A number of the children are high-achieving scholars, athletes and musicians who attend or have been accepted to a range of universities, from large public institutions, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Missouri and Indiana University, to smaller private colleges.”

    What’s really ironic is that many of them were represented by the same legal firm, and that attorney then used the same “loophole” (a/k/a scam) for his kid.


  25. - JT - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:14 pm:

    I get the impression that some think scams are okay if the asking price is too high. Do some of you dine and dash?


  26. - Cubs in '16 - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:16 pm:

    Also from yesterday’s post:

    “It’s a scam,” said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.” […]


  27. - Just Me - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:20 pm:

    So this scandal warrants an immediate probe, but the Madigan scandal is more of “Let’s wait and see” approach?

    Got it.


  28. - CapnCrunch - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:20 pm:

    “Well if the guardianships were established using false statements as the Governor claims from the families involved the AG should clearly be looking at that issue…”

    But if they weren’t granted using false statements then what?

    The WSJ looked at the 38 cases in Lake County in which a judge granted the transfer of guardianship in 2018. “Nearly all of the 38 cases use some version of this language: “The guardian can provide educational and financial support and opportunities to the minor that her parents could not otherwise provide.””

    Presumably these parents knew that lying in a court room is perjury.

    If scholarship money was awarded on the basis of merit regardless of financial need there would be no incentive to become needy. The politicians provided the incentives and some people responded. No scam here.


  29. - Jibba - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:29 pm:

    ===the whole toilet I got really softens he blow===

    Does it? Not to me. I barely remember that there were no charges from that “scandal”.

    ===Anyone else feel the hypocrisy here===

    Nope. I see a governor doing his job.

    The biggest problem here is sorting out how much support a parent is providing, not whether that parent is financially capable of doing so. Also whether the parents continue to support the child even after a faux transfer of guardianship.


  30. - Van Helsing - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:38 pm:

    ==I don’t quite get how adults are still considered minor children needing guardians. But that’s just me.==

    I agree. An adult who is truly independent of their parents at 18 should not lose out on financial aid opportunities. The overreact here to this scam/loophole exploitation will likely harm adults whose parents are unwillingly to provide the support that the government and education bureaucracy claim they should.

    The who system needs to reformed and tuition costs need to come down to a realistic price that someone can pay for on their own without parental support.


  31. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:57 pm:

    So we are going to “investigate” a perfectly legal loophole?

    How about releasing the names of legislators that used their position to get kids into Illinois? Chancellor, Presidents and others lost their jobs. But the ones that initiated the entire debacle were left unnamed.


  32. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:00 pm:

    ==The who system needs to reformed and tuition costs need to come down to a realistic price that someone can pay for on their own without parental support==

    Isn’t this why Illinois has such an extensive Community College system in place? It’s a great way for a student to save money, and end up with the same degree had they gone all four years to University.


  33. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:00 pm:

    ===How about releasing the names of legislators that used their position to get kids into Illinois?===

    Didn’t we do just that a while back?

    I’m sure your anger and disgust is also with Bruce and Diana Rauner, clouting their denied, Winnetka-living daughter into Payton Prep? Right? Exactly right. lol

    ===But the ones that initiated the entire debacle were left unnamed.===

    We sure about this. I remember legislators talking about “I wrote a letter, but… “ kinda thingy.


  34. - JT - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:11 pm:

    The loophole isn’t legal if the families lied to get guardianship for the kids.


  35. - Steve - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:21 pm:

    It appears that parents who pulled this scam might be in trouble with the IRS if they still wrote the kids off as dependents on their federal tax returns.


  36. - Van Helsing - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:33 pm:

    ==The loophole isn’t legal if the families lied to get guardianship for the kids.==

    Here’s the language that past muster in court: “The guardian can provide educational and financial support and opportunities to the minor that her parents could not otherwise provide.”

    I wouldn’t counsel anyone to do it but not sure how you can call this a “lie” without all legal and tax loopholes being considered lies.

    The solution lies in lowering tuition for all students at 4 year institutions. This solution, however, is too difficult and expensive to take on so some “income rich” families and students will be crucified as a distraction for the masses. The real magic act will be how to avoid drawing attention to all the other legal scams perpetrated by the “wealthy rich” (Panama tax havens, North Dakota dynasty trusts, etc)…I mean loopholes.


  37. - @misterjayem - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:47 pm:

    “It has always been expensive.”

    When I attended a state university, it cost $2,800 ($6,300 adjusted for inflation) per semester. The average Pell Grant was $1,500 ($3,400) per semester. If you were frugal, you could pay the balance with a summer job.

    I honestly don’t know how kids do it today. (True for most values of “it”)

    – MrJM


  38. - Jake From Elwood - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:54 pm:

    I heavily contributed towards the costs for two kids to get through college last year. One was a private school, the other public. Both had some scholarships.
    It galls me that there are people much wealthier than me who are gaming the system to allow their children to get access to financial aid that my kids did not qualify for.
    This may be legal but it is unethical and I would love to have a conversation with one of the scammers and let he or she know how much my family have sacrificed to give our children a college education.
    But like most of these conniving greedy types, they wouldn’t care. It’s all about financing their lifestyles on the backs of others.
    Great lesson to share with your children.
    That is all.


  39. - LigleIggle - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 6:21 pm:

    Sounds similar to the families gaming the system to transfer the Big $ assets of elderly relatives over many years, so that they can eventually push them onto the Medicaid rolls. (After Granny’s $ are mostly in the legal hands of other members of family.) That way the family enjoys Granny’s farmland, CD’s, stocks, financial assets without spending them all for Granny’s medical bills.)
    ….Financial advisors have seminars on how to do this legally.


  40. - Truthteller - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 6:52 pm:

    Parents and their kids who are involved in this scam all need to be punished….enough is enough


  41. - Van Helsing - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 7:06 pm:

    ==That way the family enjoys Granny’s farmland, CD’s, stocks, financial assets without spending them all for Granny’s medical bills.)==

    This used to be known as middle class inheritance…


  42. - Blue Dog Dem - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 7:29 pm:

    How can this hypocrite possibly lecture people on using every means possible to avoid paying their fair share.


  43. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:02 pm:

    ==Sounds similar to the families gaming the system to transfer the Big $ assets of elderly relatives over many years, so that they can eventually push them onto the Medicaid rolls.==

    Well if that’s the case then most CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Community)are also scams because that’s what they do. The have huge “entrance fees” and the senior gives them all her assets to be a member. The CCRC promises to take care of the senior till the end of her life. If she needs nursing home care she gets a Medicaid bed in the CCRC. She has no money because the CCRC got it all. Most CCRCs are non profits and many of them are run by religions.


  44. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:23 pm:

    ==I don’t quite get how adults are still considered minor children needing guardians. But that’s just me.==

    The parents give up parental rights when the child is still a minor,in high school.So when the 18 year old has to file FASFA and he is asked about his parents’ income he puts down his guardian’s income.


  45. - Jibba - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:36 pm:

    BDD…if hypocrisy prevented a governor from lecturing, Rauner would never have been able to criticize anyone for anything at all.


  46. - Blue Dog Dem - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:53 pm:

    Jibba. Yup. Birds of a feather.


  47. - Jibba - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 9:30 pm:

    BDD…your words, not mine. They are certainly not in the same league.


  48. - 17% Solution - Thursday, Aug 1, 19 @ 6:53 am:

    “Good on JB for calling out those who will use their wealth to navigate loopholes the rest of us can’t afford to.”

    The guardianship loophole is right there in the FASFA instructions. Anyone can do this, not just wealthy people.


  49. - Top of th State - Thursday, Aug 1, 19 @ 8:12 am:

    Why are 1/2 of our HS graduates leaving the state to go to college? That is a much bigger issue.


  50. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Aug 1, 19 @ 8:27 am:

    ==So we need to look into it to make sure we are identifying people that are doing this==

    It’s legal so what’s Pritzker going to do once he identifies the people, wag his finger at them?


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