Ecclesia on agency's watch list

Status slows flow of U.S. student aid to Springdale college

Posted: April 1, 2017 at 2:37 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Education placed Ecclesia College, a private Christian college in Springdale, on a watch list affecting the school’s cash flow, according to the department’s website.

SPRINGDALE -- The U.S. Department of Education placed Ecclesia College in Springdale on a watch list that affects the school's cash flow, according to the department's website.

Ecclesia is under "Heightened Cash Monitoring 2," an indication that the department is providing additional oversight of cash management, according to the website for the department's Federal Student Aid office.

Typically, colleges receive federal student aid funds on an "advance pay" or "direct reimbursement" basis from the Department of Education. Once an educational institution has been placed on the heightened-monitoring list, funds are released to the school after it has disbursed money to the student or parent borrower, and the school must submit manual reports. The process slows the affected college's cash flow.

Federal Student Aid may place institutions on the heightened-monitoring list "to provide additional oversight for a number of financial or federal compliance issues, some of which may be serious and others that may be less troublesome," the website states.

Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock is the only other institution in the state with the same status.

Department officials did not respond to repeated requests made since Monday for information on how or why Ecclesia ended up with the heightened-monitoring designation.

It was unclear whether the designation is related to recent criminal allegations against the college's president, Oren Paris III.

Paris was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on 10 counts of fraud over allegations that he provided kickbacks to two state legislators in exchange for state General Improvement Fund grants for a college. The indictment never names the college but identifies Paris as its president.

Two others involved in the case, consultant Randell Shelton Jr. and former state Sen. Jon Woods, also have been indicted on multiple charges of fraud. Paris, Shelton and Woods pleaded innocent to the charges Tuesday before a U.S. magistrate judge.

The three defendants are set to be tried together, with a pretrial hearing set for May 3 and the trial set for May 8. Woods and Paris were each released on $10,000 bond, and Shelton's bond was set at $5,000.

Micah Neal, another former state legislator from Springdale, pleaded guilty Jan. 4 to four counts of honest services fraud, a public corruption charge. Neal received $18,000 for his part in obtaining a grant for the college and another $20,000 for obtaining a grant for another nonprofit, according to his guilty plea.

Paris did not return a phone message seeking comment Friday.

Ecclesia College was founded in 1975. It is a work-learning college, which allows students to earn money toward tuition and graduate with much less debt than the average university student, according to the school website. It offers three associate of arts degrees, 12 bachelor degrees and one graduate degree.

It enrolls 178 people, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education's website.

State Desk on 04/01/2017