Wittenberg program that lost funding over typo gets another shot

A 50-year-old Wittenberg University program will get another chance at federal funding after its application initially was denied by the U.S. Department of Education over essentially a typo.

The school’s Upward Bound, directed by Eddie Chambers, is a college preparatory program for low-income high school students who would be first-generation college students.

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Federal funding covers nearly 100 percent of the costs, Chambers said, so he was shocked to learn earlier this year that his grant renewal application had been denied.

Wittenberg’s program lost funding because of a mistake in the 65-page grant request that violated a double-spacing rule that requires “no more than three lines per vertical inch,” including text in charts and tables, according to the rejection letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

“I was devastated,” Chambers said. “Especially when I learned the reason why. I just couldn’t believe they would reject a well-established, 50-year-old program for something as minor as failing to double space one or two pages in the grant.”

More than 3,000 students have been through the Upward Bound Program at Wittenberg since its inception, Chambers said. Many have gone on to become doctors and lawyers, he said, and still work and live in Springfield. It has 75 active students currently.

The university reached out to local Congressional representatives and other leaders with their concern over the denial, which Chambers said would likely mean the end of the program.

It turns out 77 other colleges had been denied funding for similar reasons, U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson said. The Republican who represents Springfield was notified by Wittenberg about the decision and joined in support of efforts to get the department of education to overturn the decision, he said, and to give Wittenberg and the other colleges another chance.

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“That’s the epitome of bureaucracy running amok,” Davidson said. “The people were basically saying, ‘No, this isn’t the kind of government we want.’”

About 32 members of the U.S. House and 24 U.S. senators put together a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he said. At first the department said they wouldn’t reject future applications for formatting errors, Davidson said, but there was nothing that could be done for those that were already denied.

But the members of Congress were able to find additional money that could be used for the programs, he said, so the department agreed to reconsider the denied applications.

“We were able to speak in a bipartisan way to preserve the path,” Davidson said.

It’s the glimmer of hope Chambers had hoped for.

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“We’re very optimistic,” he said.

It’s not a guarantee the program will regain funding, he said, and the application still needs to be considered.

“We’re still in limbo right now, we’re still waiting to hear,” Chambers said. “Hopefully soon we will know whether or not we have been successful.”

The situation shows why constituents need to reach out to their representatives in Washington, D.C. for help when they need it, Davidson said.

“When you see a problem and say, ‘Hey, this shouldn’t be this way,’ we encourage everyone in the district, please reach out to our office,” he said.

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun first broke the news about Wittenberg’s Upward Bound losing federal funding over a typo on May 9 and will continue to track developments with it.

By the numbers

50: Years Upward Bound program has been at Wittenberg University

3,000: Students who have been through the Upward Bound Program at Wittenberg since its inception

75: Active students currently.

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