Florida State College at Jacksonville President Cynthia Bioteau was met with a burst of standing applause by 1,500 faculty and staff when she took the stage at a convocation last week.
The ceremony had all the bells and whistles of an energetic — if not typical — back-to-school rally. But for Bioteau, who started in January, the path toward her first full academic year running the sprawling five-campus Northeast Florida college has been anything but ordinary.
Staring down a costly financial aid controversy, months of bad headlines over the school’s former president and shaken public confidence in the institution, Bioteau has moved deliberately to unsnarl the school from scandal.
She’s shaken up the school’s top leadership.
An outside consultant is now effectively running large portions of FSCJ’s financial aid department.
The school has rewritten its mission and vision statements, looking to further embed itself in the community.
In June, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges reaccredited FSCJ for another 10 years, a move one commission official said indicated the school was moving in the right direction to fix its past problems.
“Reaccreditation is critical in maintaining and improving FSCJ, and I am proud of all of the effort that so many colleagues within our college have put forth,” Bioteau told the faculty and staff. “FSCJ must become a lean, efficient and ethical college, and with this accreditation I believe we are on the right track.”
Perhaps the most high-stakes challenge Bioteau faced in her first seven months was a finding in March that FSCJ had to repay the Department of Education $3.4 million for improperly distributing Pell Grants and other financial aid through an automated program that changed students’ majors without their consent.
The college repaid the money immediately, said FSCJ spokeswoman Jill Johnson.
Prior to the finding, Bioteau had announced that she found the financial aid department so troubled she had decided to outsource it to an outside consultant until the problems are corrected. It was estimated that at least 12 employees in the 39-employee department would lose their jobs because of the move.
Johnson said the outsourcing has eliminated 19 positions — a combination of layoffs, attrition and some employees who were shifted into other roles.
ProEducation, a national financial aid consulting firm, was hired in May and has handled all financial aid-related phone calls and some internal processes.
FSCJ’s financial aid problems came to light in 2012 — months after the Department of Education slapped the school with a $515,000 fine for earlier revelations that the school handed out $4.2 million in federal loans or Pell Grants during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years to students who shouldn’t have received them. At the time, FSCJ was led by Steve Wallace, the school’s former and controversial president whose break with the college was messy and extended into Bioteau’s tenure.
“Our financial aid issues are slowly being sorted through and resolved. … Together we are moving toward stability in this crucial area of access for so many of our students,” Bioteau said.
The college has taken several other steps to address the financial aid problems, including:
■ FSCJ is searching for a new financial aid director and hopes to fill the position by January. In the meantime, two experienced financial aid managers are serving as co-directors.
■ Financial aid managers received updated training on federal regulations in June.
■ Staffing has been restructured so that each campus has two financial aid analysts, and “floating” district staff maintain services to students when absences occur.
■ Updated financial aid policies and procedures have been added to the college’s website.
Bioteau has also said she was moving to install new leadership at FSCJ, saying she wanted to create a culture of fairness and appreciation for following the rules.
She’s hired three campus presidents and made other top-level hires. Asked which contracts for administrators had not been renewed, Johnson said in a written statement vacancies came through “a combination of retirements, individuals leaving on their own and non-renewals.”
The new leadership Bioteau includes:
■ Colin Mailloux, general counsel, who will be paid $158,000.
■ Sandy Robinson, president of the Nassau Center/North Campus, who will be paid $147,456.
■ Ian Neuhard, president of Kent Campus, who will be paid $147,456.
■ Marie Gnage, president of Downtown Campus, who will be paid $147,456.
■ Al Little will be on the FSCJ board’s September agenda for approval as the vice president of business services, with a $170,000 recommended salary.
Nate Monroe: (904) 359-4289