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Wrong Students Given Scholarships

March 8, 2000

Thirty-nine college students were mistakenly told they won government fellowships, but the U.S. Education Department has decided to give them the money anyway, an official said today.

The mistake in the Jacob K. Javits Fellowships could cost the government up to $975,000, depending on how many accept the offer. The fellowships pay for graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

``We were working at first to find out what happened and why an error occurred,″ said Erica Lepping, a department spokeswoman in Washington. ``After reviewing that, we came to the conclusion this was the right thing to do.″

In addition, students and educators said an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1992 bars the department from retracting Javits fellowships after they are announced.

Individual awards range from $25,000 to $100,000. Congress appropriated $10 million for the program for each of the 2000-01 and 2001-02 academic years, Lepping said.

The 39 mistaken winners actually were alternates. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which first reported the story, said 138 other students were the real winners. Lepping said 1,100 to 1,300 applicants compete for the fellowship each year.

A private contractor, DTI Associates in Arlington, Va., was hired to mail award notices to the winners.

Lepping said the mistaken notifications sent to the alternates were discovered when one alternate called the Education Department with a question.

She didn’t immediately know if the real winners were notified.

The Education Department is searching for a way to fund the unexpected outlay, Lepping said. It was also looking into possible legal action against the contractor, she said.

DTI Associates’ director of government services, Bruce Rankin, said the Education Department was reviewing the matter, and his company was waiting to learn what steps, if any, the government would take. He would not say whether his company had erred.

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On the Net: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/HEP/iegps/javits.html

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