Kentucky State University will outsource financial aid staff as employees quit, take leave

Kentucky State University has outsourced its financial aid staffing through the end of the year after the office was left with no employees earlier this semester, documents revealed.

Blue Icon, a financial aid consulting service, will provide contractors to fill the empty positions in the financial aid office. The contract was approved by KSU earlier this semester, and the Council on Postsecondary Education gave KSU approval to spend $100,000 on the contract Friday.

The financial aid office currently has one employee, said Travis Powell, vice president and general counsel of CPE, in an interview with the Herald-Leader. Earlier in the fall semester, it had no staff members because of resignations and employees taking leave. Three consultants from Blue Icon will fill roles in the office through the end of the year, with the option to extend the contract through June 2024, according to the contract.

The consultants will work up to 40 hours per week each with Blue Icon providing an additional 20 hours per week of “engagement oversight to support the consulting team.” All three of the consultants are completing the work remotely, according to the contract. Blue Icon is based out of Washington D.C.

“Immediate assistance is needed to manage operations and assist with a backlog of financial aid processing tasks that impacts approximately half of the students enrolled in the fall term, awaiting financial aid packaging,” according to the contract, which was signed in October.

The money used for the contract was originally intended for mental health services. But because those services are a recurring expense, KSU was able to use Title III funds for mental health services and put $100,000 toward the Blue Icon contract, said Powell.

“Within six weeks of the start of the semester, the financial aid office went from four full-time staff members to zero. With medical leaves and unexpected separations, the University was left with no choice but to explore hiring interim staff as several student aid packages remained to be processed and disbursed,” according to meeting documents from the Council on Postsecondary Education.

The three roles filled by Blue Icon will be the director of the office, financial aid management system support and staffing processing assistance. KSU will pay $135 per hour, with the cost not exceeding $100,000. A deposit of $54,000 was paid by KSU. The university will reimburse consultants for travel, lodging and out-of-pocket expenses while the contract is active.

“Permanent hires in the financial aid office have now been made and individuals will begin working soon. Other hires are in process,” according to documents from CPE.

Kentucky State University, the state’s only public historically Black university, has been under state oversight since 2021, when its former president resigned. The university received $23 million from the state to address its budget shortfall and had to create a management improvement plan with CPE.

A special examination by the Office of the Auditor of Public Accounts found widespread overspending at the university, misuse of credit cards and a lack of financial control under the former president, which the then-interim president called a “failure in terms of checks and balances.” KSU appointed a new president, Koffi Akakpo, earlier this year.

The university will remain under state oversight until 2025.

According to the university’s human resources website, the university is currently hiring for 14 faculty positions and 99 staff positions. The university has several administrative jobs posted, including the vice president of finance and administration/CFO and director of student success. Other job openings are spread throughout university departments, from custodians to extension office agents.

As of early November, KSU had 459 faculty and staff members, according to information obtained through an open records request.

While there have been some “general, overall staffing issues,” Powell believes the university is moving in the right direction, he said.

“This takes time, and lots of people have left, and they’re really building back up, but I definitely think they’re heading in the right direction,” Powell said. “They’re putting a lot of things in place that need to be in pace in order to make this a highly functioning university like it should be and can be.”