Knoxville Navy veteran’s Pell Grant held up after Virginia College’s closure

Investigations

A Navy veteran is wondering whatever happened to her Pell Grant. She had been enrolled in Virginia College last fall, but then it closed. According to records, the now-closed college received the grant in October 2018.

A Pell Grant is money the government provides for students who need it to pay for college. Grants, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. Eligible students receive a specific amount each year under this program.

Like many young moms, Brittany Carrasco’s job never ends. At 33, this single mother of three kids wants to make a better life for her family. Second Class Petty Officer Carrasco served in the Navy for 12 years first as an Avionics Technician for F-18’s , then later as a Career Counselor. She left the service wanting to become a nurse. 

Seeking the fast track, she enrolled at Virginia College last fall. 

“We were going into our final exams. We had no inclination that anything was going to happen. One day at school, we walked in and were told the school is closing,” said Carrasco.

As a veteran, Carrasco is receiving the Post 9-11 GI Bill, and she’s eligible for a Pell Grant. A financial record shows Virginia College received nearly $6,800 in tuition for Carrasco and money toward her Pell Grant last fall. Carrasco says nearly $1,700 was never put into her personal account. 

“The school still has it. They’re not giving it to me,” said Carrasco. “They said they’re not dispersing any further checks to any of the students.”

Carrasco said she confronted financial officers at the college in early December.  

“Before they closed I was in financial aid every day I had class, asking about it. Once they closed, I called and continued to call. Nobody answered,” she said.

Carrasco was able to finish the fall semester. Her transcript shows she received all As, but she never received her grant. 

“The VA pays you for the month prior. There is no school, so no paycheck,” she said.

Carrasco said she would have received the money on January 1 if the school had not closed.

WATE 6 On Your Side went to seek answers in December. However, Virginia College’s campus in Fountain City was closed tight.  We wrote to Virginia College twice but never received a reply.

We then contacted the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and was given some information.  A new federal rule implemented in 2017 says if a school closes a student’s Pell Grant eligibility is “reset.” In other words, the student’s grant will not be lost if a school shuts down. Carrasco has sent a note to the Department of Education.  

She also trusts that the federal government will contact Virginia College forcing the school to return the money.

“For them not to get away with this, for them not to keep money that is not theirs, just because they don’t feel like dispersing a check,” she said.

Federal Pell Grants help students pay for educational expenses. For many students, the Pell Grant has been an essential resource to help offset the cost of tuition and books. However, the grant has relatively few restrictions and the award does not have to be repaid or included as taxable income.

Carrasco’s main worry was losing her Pell Grant for the fall semester of last year as she was unaware of the “reset” option. Now she can take some action.

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