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Department of Education Investigating College Bribery Scheme

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    Department of Education Investigating College Bribery Scheme
    Getty/UCLA
    Undated file photos show the campuses of USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, Calif.

    Eight universities embroiled in a massive college admission cheating scheme are now being investigated by the U.S. Education Department.

    Letters sent to the schools Monday and obtained by The Associated Press say the department is conducting a "preliminary investigation" to determine if they violated federal laws or rules surrounding the management of federal student aid.

    A department spokeswoman said the agency does not confirm or comment on ongoing investigations.

    The inquiry stems from a sweeping scheme uncovered by the Justice Department in which wealthy parents allegedly paid bribes to get their children admitted to elite U.S. schools.

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    Among more than 30 people charged were parents, college sports coaches and athletics officials, but the schools themselves have not been charged in the case.

    Still, the Education Department's letter told colleges that the allegations "raise questions about whether your institution is fully meeting its obligations" under federal education laws.

    The letter was sent to the presidents of: Yale, Wake Forest, Stanford and Georgetown universities, along with the University of Southern California; University of San Diego; University of Texas, Austin; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

    Several schools confirmed that they received the letter and said they are working to provide records and information requested by department investigators.

    The University of Southern California issued a statement saying it will "fully cooperate" and will "continue to comply with all laws and regulations."

    Yale President Peter Salovey said he received the request "and will respond appropriately."

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    The University of Texas at Austin said it is working with the department while it also conducts its own internal review.

    The letter demands a wide range of information from colleges, including all admissions policies and marketing materials since 2009, and any records produced in response to a subpoena from another agency.

    It also requests information about any employee or student implicated in the scheme, including any disciplinary action taken against employees, and student applications, letters of reference, exam scores, and records indicating if they received federal student aid.

    "Please provide the institution's internal control policies and procedures pertaining to any audits or compliance reviews on the admission of students recruited for athletic teams at the institution since January 1, 2009," the letter said.

    It reminds schools that in order to receive federal student aid, they're required to establish procedures to manage it properly. They're also required to report any "credible" evidence of fraud.

    Schools found to have committed "substantial misrepresentation" can have their access to federal student aid limited or revoked entirely.

    The letter warns that those penalties apply to statements "made directly or indirectly to prospective students."