Former treasurer’s scholarships called into question

By Shawn Bowen, @ShawnBowen_DE

Gov. Bruce Rauner is not the only state leader concerned with Illinois’ past financial issues.

Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs said an audit found issues in the way scholarships were awarded in his office during a press conference on Tuesday at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

After taking the position in January, Frerichs requested an independent audit of the treasurer’s office and released the parts of the results as a section of his 100-day report on Monday in Springfield.

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The audit showed that almost no criteria had been in place for awarding scholarships under former Treasurer Dan Rutherford and his predecessors. He said the focus of allocating scholarships should be on need and not personal connection to the office, which was the case under previous treasures.

“We’re going to put the scholarship program on hold,” Frerichs said. “We’re going to standardize how people are chosen so they’re not given out based on political considerations.”

The report states the office plans to overhaul the program while it is on hold, “to ensure transparency in how the scholarships are awarded.” 

Scholarship allocation was not the only the problem the audit exposed. The treasurer’s office featured a “clout-heavy” paid internship program lacking hiring guidelines and performance monitoring, according to the report.

The report comes at an interesting time for Illinois’ finances. With potentially substantial state budget cuts on the horizon, Frerichs is concerned the already daunting task of paying for college will become even tougher.

“If the proposed cuts go through — cutting funding for higher education in the state by nearly a third — there is no doubt that tuition is going to have to rise, or quality [of education] is going to decrease precipitously,” Frerichs said. 

Along with budget cuts, Frerichs said student loan debt is another problem that could await students in the future. 

“It is important that students work toward their degrees, but they also have to understand the amount of debt they are taking on,” Frerichs said.  “We have more student debt than credit card debt in this country.”  

Frerichs said although the treasurer’s office cannot solve all students’ financial problems, his goal is to give students the tools they need to invest in themselves.

Shawn Bowen can be reached at [email protected] 

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