Columbia Does Damage Control

Here's an email I received this evening -- it went out to Columbia College alumni (among others):

You are probably now aware of news reports relating to an undergraduate financial aid officer who may have violated Columbia policies by having a financial relationship with Student Loan Xpress, a student loan lender. The employee involved has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation into this conduct. We take this matter extremely seriously since the integrity of the process by which we recommend lenders to students is of utmost importance to us. While we have not confirmed all of the details, the case here appears to involve a single official who may have violated our policies, and we believe that this has had no adverse financial consequences for students and their families.

Our goal has been and remains to ensure that students and their families have the best choices of independent high quality preferred lenders to help finance their higher education. In 2005, Columbia's process of selecting and overseeing preferred lenders was reorganized and centralized to ensure that we identified lender sources who could provide the most favorable terms and services for our students. These changes were designed to ensure a competitive process, overseen by the University's Office of Student Services, that includes six financial aid directors broadly representative of our University population.

In view of the recent allegations we have taken a number of additional steps: the University immediately contacted the New York State Attorney General, who had been conducting an investigation into lending practices at other universities; the lender involved has been removed from our preferred group pending a complete review of the facts; Columbia has also insisted that a public endorsement by the Columbia employee that appeared on the lender's website be removed and we have been advised that it has been removed.

We are all fully supportive of what the Attorney General has done to make student lending more transparent and will continue to work with his office on this matter. It is important for you to know that Columbia does not have the kind of direct financial relationship with student loan lenders that was the subject of the Attorney General's recently- announced settlement with a number of other universities.

We have moved quickly in this case precisely because we take our responsibility to you and your families so seriously, and we wanted to share this information with you.

If you have any questions or concerns, please call Nanette DiLauro, Director of Financial Aid Operations at 212-854-3711.

Zvi Galil
Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Austin Quigley
Columbia College