JOLIET – Joliet Junior College officials and the U.S. Department of Education were once in a dispute over the department’s $55,000 fine, which has since been paid, against the college for crime reporting violations.
Federal officials fined the college over violations they stated could have endangered students and employees, but JJC officials requested a waiver or reduction of the fine because they stated they historically complied with the law and took corrective actions since the department found the violations in a compliance review that began in 2011.
Federal officials informed JJC in a Nov. 24, 2015, letter that they intended to fine the college for violating requirements of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or the Clery Act. The college had failed to properly distribute its Annual Security Report in 2011 and prior years, according to federal officials.
The Clery Act is a federal requirement for higher education institutions participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information.
The college requested the fine’s waiver or reduction in a Dec. 14, 2015, letter, but the department reaffirmed on Feb. 9, 2016, its intentions to fine the college, stating among its reasons that even though JJC provided a list of corrective actions taken since the program review, that does not “excuse its earlier failure to comply with the law.”
Since then, JJC paid the fine in April 2016, said JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder, and the college’s Board of Trustees adopted a board policy Sept. 13, 2016, that outlines how the school will further comply with the Clery Act. Many of the items included in the policy were already being carried out by the school.
A Department of Education spokesman stated in an email that the office of Federal Student Aid, which conducted the program review, did not have any comments beyond what was publicly provided on FSA’s data center.
The department assessed the $55,000 fine for JJC’s failure to properly distribute ASRs for 2011 and all prior years to students and employees and for its failure to notify prospective students and employees about the availability of ASRs for 2011 and prior years, according to the Nov. 24, 2015, letter.
“These failures could have endangered JJC’s students and employees who must be able to rely on the disclosure of campus crime statistics, policies and statements to take precautions for their safety,” the letter stated.
Rohder stated in an email that the college takes the safety and security of its students and employees seriously. Throughout the year, JJC offers training as well as safety and support resources through various departments for students and staff.
“We believe that our prior efforts, which are now complemented by additional outreach and board policy, provide a solid plan for outreach and communication regarding these topics,” Rohder stated. “As a result, we do not believe this endangered our community.”
Rohder stated the college has collected data for the ASR since the Clery Act’s inception in 1990, which the college also stated in its Dec. 14, 2015, letter requesting a waiver or reduction of the fine.
However, the Department of Education disputed the college’s contention in its Feb. 9, 2016, reaffirmation. The department stated it received a JJC police book containing crime statistics from 2012 through 2014, but that while the college claimed it made similar publications available to students in earlier years, JJC “did not provide copies of those publications or demonstrate the publications” included material that must be in an ASR.
Rohder stated the department did not find any error or failure in the college’s manner of ASR reporting or within the reports. She stated the 2011 program review found that the manner of information distribution needed to be increased to make it more accessible to “all unknown, unidentified prospective students and all unknown, unidentified new employees.”
Rohder said because the college’s ASR was “substantively correct” and the college took “significant and immediate steps” to distribute the report and follow recommended actions approved by the department, school officials felt the fine was excessive “given the technical nature of the violation.”