UM system not contacted about student loan conduct code
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UM system not contacted about student loan conduct code

Date: October 1, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Month's after Missouri's attorney general announced a proposed code of conduct for student loan activities by Missouri's public and private universities, the University of Missouri system has not signed the agreement -- along with a majority of the state's other public universities.

Among the provisions, the code includes prohibits kickbacks to schools, requires information disclosures about preferred lenders and limits school employees participation on lender advisory boards.

The University of Missouri system has not been contacted about signing a state sponsored student loan code of conduct regarding their preferred lender list, UM-System spokesman Scott Charton said.

 "The discussion of a code of conduct began in the wake of the New York Attorney General's investigation, with the Missouri Attorney General's office sending questions to institutions around our state. Thus, the Missouri Attorney General's office has already taken initiative, and the University will wait to see whether the Attorney General has further inquiries or requests of us before evaluating whether we should set a code of conduct," Charton said.

The Attorney General drafted the code of conduct agreement after New York began a national investigation of the relationship between student loan lenders and universities in March 2007. The investigation explored whether universities steer students to preferred lenders and get monetary kickbacks for doing so.

Twenty-one Missouri universities have voluntarily signed the contract as of Sept. 20, including twelve public and 9 private schools.

In June, the Coordinating Board for the state Higher Education Department completed its own an investigation on the relationship between lenders and Missouri schools, finding no evidence of serious wrong doing or ethical violations in the 59 university's that responded.

The department's investigation included all four of the UM-System Universities, Stephens College and Columbia College.

The Higher Education Department investigation found that more than one-half of the responding institutions have written policies about accepting gifts from lenders, others indicated they were in the process of developing one.

Higher Education Department Spokeswoman Wendy Baker said the Coordinating Board's inquiry has no bearing on the Attorney General's investigation and it is primarily the schools decision whether to sign the agreement or not.

"We do not take any gifts or money from lenders and have had that policy in place for quite some time," MU-Columbia Spokesman Christian Basi said in an e-mail response.

Basi said the university's financial aid office contacted lenders at least two years ago- before the New York investigation began- to inform them the university would not accept gifts or benefits.

Charton said the UM-System does not have a specific code of conduct for lenders. 

Charton said the University is monitoring legislation and regulatory efforts in regard to student lending before they consider a code of conduct. 

The University of Missouri-Columbia has four loan agencies on their preferred lender list for undergraduate and graduate students, none of which are companies investigated by the New York Attorney General.

According to the MU Financial Aid Web site, the preferred lenders are chosen by comparing interest rates, student benefits and customer service.

Following the New York investigation, Missouri began looking at state universities and colleges and discovered an inappropriate relationship between Washington University in St. Louis and Education Financial Partners, a student lender, said a spokesman for Missouri's attorney general's, John Fougere.

"They were a school where we thought they had an inappropriate relationship with lenders," Fougere said.

Fougere said he was unaware if the UM System plans to sign the agreement, but said it would be welcome.

"It's an opportunity for schools to demonstrate to the students and families that they are above the board," Fougere said.

He said the agreement, while not legally binding, makes consumers feel empowered and helps schools out in the long run.

Charton said the  UM-System has cooperated with the Attorney General's investigation and cannot comment more because it is ongoing

Fougere said the attorney general's office is still investigating schools but has not found any other misconduct so far.