Grand Canyon University student receives $4,000 grant, only to be asked to pay it back

PHOENIX - When Vicki Dare found herself with no kids left to raise and a career she wasn't fond of, she decided to make a change.

"I thought, ‘I want to do what I've always wanted to do,' and that's be a high school English teacher," she said.

She enrolled at Grand Canyon University (GCU) as an online student. She made it to the Dean's List.

"English is a wonderful subject," she said, "I was doing really good."

She liked the program, but it wasn't cheap. So, she was glad to hear about the TEACH grant, a federal grant you can get if you commit to teaching for four years in a high-need subject area or a low-income region.

GCU processed her application, and, soon enough, "I saw the money had been put on-line, in the GCU – my online account," she said.

It was $4,000. She was grateful for the extra funds. "It kept me going until March," she said.

But, five months later, the university gave Vicki some bad news.

"There was a mistake made that I never should have received the grant," she said. "They had to send it back to where it came from."

GCU told us that they paid the $4,000 back to the federal government. Therefore, Vicki would have to pay the money back to them.

"I'm like, ‘what?'" she said. "I mean, I'd already called to make sure that they money was mine, you know, and I was assured that it was and now, four months later, I'm being told, ‘Sorry, you have to pay it back?'"

The Arizona Department of Education told us that the state took English off of the list of high-need fields for the TEACH grant in 2010. So, GCU should have never processed Vicki's application for the grant since she was going to be an English teacher.

She's not the only one. GCU wouldn't give us an exact number, but confirmed there were at least "a handful" of other students who received the TEACH grant in error.

GCU told us the person who processed Vicki's application no longer was employed by the university and that they put a "document process" in place to prevent this from happening again.

But, for months, they stood by their decision that Vicki owed them the $4,000. Vicki also stood by her decision to not pay it.

"There was no way I could pay back $4,000!" she said. "No way!"

GCU added the $4,000 to her account balance and then lowered it to about $1,200 by taking her unused federal funding and applying a $665 Persistence Discount, which was offered to all GCU undergraduates students who completed at least 12 credits in his or her program as of April 1, 2011, according to GCU.

Even with the balance down to $1,200, "I told them, I don't have it," Vicki said.

Fed up, she eventually transferred to a new university. But, when she asked GCU to transfer her credits over so she could graduate, she got some more bad news.

"A letter was sent back to me and told me, sorry, until you clean up the financial obligation you have, we're not going to give you your transcript," Vicki said.

That's when she let me know what was going on. We contacted GCU and, less than a week later, Vicki got a call from a representative of the school.

"They gave me my transcript," she said.

And that $1,200 balance? "That's gone," Vicki said.  

The university said they agreed to make these moves before we got involved. GCU also said Vicki passed up a scholarship they offered her to settle most of the debt, though Vicki said she never received any such offer.

In a statement, GCU said:

The best interests of our students always takes priority, and each situation is unique.  In this situation, we reached out on multiple occasions to find a fair solution and, ultimately, we are glad that we were able to come to an amicable resolution.

Vicki is now clear to finish her education. She should graduate next May, she said.

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