UNION GROVE, Wis. — Shepherds College is increasing its efforts to raise scholarship money, after the U.S. Department of Education ruled that the college’s students no longer qualify for federal financial aid.

The action affects about half of the college’s students, and will result in an estimated loss of $600,000 a year in assistance.

The Union Grove college serves about 75 students who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. Specialized instruction and job training helps postsecondary students enter the workforce and live independently.

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College President Tracy Terrill said administrators were able to cover the lost federal aid this year by using private scholarship funds.

However, donations have not been enough to replenish the lost funds in future years, he said.

“The gap is still significant,” Terrill said. “We could use help.”

Union Grove and other communities have passed resolutions urging federal officials to find a way to help the college’s students, and the Racine County Intergovernmental Cooperation Council has promoted the cause among its city, village and town members.

Union Grove Village Trustee Sara Gloeckler said the residential campus at 1805 15th Ave. provides a learning environment that is “welcoming and refreshing” for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Many parents travel from outside Wisconsin to give their children the unique college experience available in Union Grove.

Recalling a recent visit to campus, Gloeckler said: “It was beautiful to sit down with the students and hear how much they love Shepherds College, and how much they are learning.”

Founded in 2008, the nonprofit college offers three-year programs that prepare students for careers in culinary arts, horticulture or technology. It has a 75% graduation rate, and four out of five graduates find employment.

The cost of attending Shepherds College is about $60,000 a year.

The Department Education allowed Shepherds College students to qualify for Pell Grants and other forms of federal assistance for more than 10 years, before reversing the decision at the start of the current school year.

Department of Education officials declined to explain their action, saying only that Shepherds College has been issued a “denial of recertification,” and that an appeal from college administrators is under review.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., whose district includes Shepherds College, has asked the Department of Education for clarification about the reason for the financial aid decision.

Steil spokeswoman Chavonne Ludick said the congressman also is working on legislation to make federal financial aid available again to students at the college.

In his letter, Steil said cutting off federal assistance could have a significant impact on the college and its students.

“Traditional educational institutions do not always have the necessary accommodations and resources to support non-traditional students,” he wrote. “And Shepherds College provides educational opportunities to these students.”

The financial aid issue comes as Shepherds College is considering expansion outside of Wisconsin.

Terrill said federal financial aid programs historically have been geared toward students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who spend at least 50% of their time in integrated settings on conventional college or university campuses. For students to qualify, those institutions must offer students with disabilities a “comprehensive transition program” within the context of curriculum serving a general student population.

Federal education officials, Terrill said, have not provided a clear explanation for why Shepherds College students previously qualified for financial aid but no longer do.

“We certainly don’t agree with the Department of Education’s decision on this,” he said. “We’ve been trying to make our case, all to no avail.”

A notice of decertification was sent to the college in November 2022. The decision became official, Terrill said, just before students arrived on campus last fall, and only one student has left because of the change.

The college could challenge the matter in court, Terrill said, but officials have decided to focus on raising private donations.

Shepherds College, he said, could never meet the federal government’s standards for students with disabilities within a general population or integrating them only part of the time.

“Everything we do is about them,” Terrill said. “They’re not a side project on our campus.”

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