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Upper Iowa University has been put on notice by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, after staff members at one of its locations for years mishandled academic and financial aid information.

The private university, based in Fayette, Iowa, also runs 25 educational centers in seven states. In fall 2013, the university said it learned that a “handful” of employees at one of its five Louisiana locations had changed students’ grades and improperly handled financial aid information.

“It was a small number of employees, they were released immediately, and I am unable to comment further on the investigation,” Karl Easttorp, executive director of the university’s office of communications and marketing, said in an email. “However, I can assure you that these actions are not representative of UIU’s culture and values.”

Easttorp did not say how many university staffers were fired, nor how many students were affected by their actions. According to a website that Upper Iowa set up in response to being put on notice, the university has contacted students who may have been affected.

Since the case involved federal financial aid funds, Upper Iowa notified the U.S. Department of Education, which joined the investigation. The university then notified the HLC last year.

“The university worked closely with legal experts and the U.S. Department of Education to conduct a thorough investigation and self-reported those findings to the HLC,” Easttorp said. “The HLC then conducted their own examination. UIU has already put into place many changes that we believe will prevent this kind of thing from happening again.”

The Higher Learning Commission on Feb. 23 put Upper Iowa on notice, meaning the institution remains accredited but must take remedial steps ahead of the HLC’s scheduled on-site evaluation in 2018. The university can first be removed from notice in February 2019.

In a disclosure notice published on its website, the accreditor said it received reports of “fraudulent staff activity related to the distribution of federal student financial aid, entry or upgrade of grades for students, and identity theft between 2008-2013” and “concluded that the university did not have sufficient oversight of its operations.”

The notice references two accreditation criteria that the university is in danger of not meeting: one related to ethical behavior and operational integrity, the other to governance and administrative structures that enable institutions to fulfill their missions.

“Efforts have already been made to address these concerns, and will continue to be our focus,” the university said. “We are fully committed to working with the HLC over the next two years to remove the ‘on notice’ designation.”

Upper Iowa is scheduled to undergo a routine comprehensive accreditation re-evaluation during the 2019-20 academic year.

A spokesperson for the HLC declined to comment beyond the contents of the disclosure notice. A spokesperson for the Education Department also declined to comment.

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