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Colleges target fraud with more coursework

May 1, 2012 at 11:18 AM

WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) -- Some U.S. colleges are battling federal financial aid scams by requiring students to attend courses to qualify for the aid, officials said.

USA Today reported the moves come amid concerns fraud rings are taking millions of dollars in federal student aid.

Axia, a two-year program of the University of Phoenix, came up with the anti-fraud coursework idea after requiring a three-week orientation program a few years ago designed to help students determine whether they're prepared for college. The orientation program, Axia found, eliminated financial aid scammers, who had to complete the course to receive the aid.

"These [aid fraud] ringleaders, they are lazy," said James Berg, vice president of the Apollo Group, which owns Axia.

The company has referred more than 800 cases of possible fraud to the U.S. Education Department's office of the inspector general.

The American Association of Community Colleges suggested in a report last month on preventing financial aid abuse that faculty require classroom activity in the first few weeks of class to "monitor whether students are authentically engaged in the learning environments."

Scammers often target the Pell Grant program for low-income students and apply for aid for schools with low tuition and minimum academic requirements.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said the rate of improper Pell Grant payments declined from 3.12 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in 2011 but the dollar amount rose from $600 million in 2009 to $1 billion in 2011.

The Education Department said cases involving online programs had risen significantly.

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