Bethel: Airing our grievances with the DoE this month

Nelson (Bethel)

Two updates to the Bethel-University-v.-The-Feds story I covered last week:

It sounds like Bethel will get a chance to air its grievances with the U.S. Dept. of Education later this month over the department’s financial-health test, and it should get some breathing room on a penalty it says it shouldn’t have to pay.

In detail:

1) Bethel finance chief Kathleen Nelson has told me university officials and their auditor are scheduled to meet with Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter on July 25. They’ll discuss Bethel’s opposition to the way federal officials have assessed Bethel’s financial health.

The university will also receive an extension to the July 17 deadline for posting a multimillion-dollar letter of credit, she said.

Nelson said she got her information from the office of 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn, whom she’d asked for help in the dispute. She said university officials are waiting for written notice of the meeting and deadline from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

I’ve got a call in to McCollum’s chief of staff for confirmation. Update: He has confirmed.

The department informed Bethel about two months ago that the university had flunked the its “financial responsibility test” and had to post the pricy letter of credit, which would act as a form of insurance.

But Bethel maintains that the department used faulty, inconsistent methods when it calculated Bethel’s financial health for the 2012 fiscal year.

And it’s not alone in saying that, which brings us to:

2) MPR reporter Tim Post wrote about issues that other Minnesota colleges’ had with the same financial-health assessment in August 2010. My blog post on that is here. (Pardon the screwed-up layout. It didn’t transfer well when we made a blog-platform switch earlier this year.)

Paul Hassen, interim director of communications for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), told me this morning:

These stories relate to the same annual financial responsibility test issue that Bethel is facing this year.  The experience in 2010 and 2011 led NAICU to lead a two year effort to reform the Education Department’s analysis process.  Unfortunately, the Department has not substantially updated the formula used to determine the financial soundness of colleges and universities since the 1990s.

 You can read NAICU’s report on suggested reforms here.