Chief Operating Officer of the Federal Student Aid Office: Who Is James Runcie?

Thursday, January 12, 2017
James Runcie

James Runcie was appointed to lead the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) on September 15, 2011, and reappointed to the post December 23, 2015.


Runcie was born in Jamaica, son of a sugar cane field worker, and moved with his family to New York as a child. He attended Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he starred as a basketball player. He initially played for the University of Virginia, then transferred to Holy Cross. There he was involved in an incident with racial overtones. Runcie was punched during a practice by a white player. As a result, Runcie and three other black players walked off the team. Two rejoined the team but Runcie and another player weren’t asked back because of what the coach called “inappropriate conduct after the fight.”


Runcie earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Holy Cross, and later an MBA from Harvard.


Runcie’s career began in the business world, not education. He worked for Xerox, then in 1991 the investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, becoming a senior vice president. He moved to Banc of America Securities as a managing director in 2000, then into corporate finance with UBS Investment Bank in 2002.


Runcie joined the Federal Student Aid in 2009, first as an adviser, then the following year as deputy chief operating officer.


Shortly after Runcie was named to lead the agency in 2011, FSA suffered a short data breach that allowed users of its website to see others’ financial data. More recently, Runcie and FSA have been criticized for not doing enough to stop student aid fraud, particularly at for-profit colleges. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also found that borrowers were mistreated by private financial institutions that had been overseen by FSA. One company, Navient, was accused by federal prosecutors of breaking the law by overcharging active-duty military personnel for student loans. Navient was cleared by FSA after what the Education Department’s inspector general later found to be a phony investigation. For that episode, FSA was blasted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).


Runcie did oversee the move from bank-based student loans to those held by the federal government, which saved taxpayers billions of dollars.


Runcie’s brother Robert is also involved in education as the superintendent of the Broward County (Florida) School District.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Education Department Secretly Reappoints Top Official Accused Of Harming Students (by Shahien Nasiripour, Huffington Post)

Black Player Returns at Holy Cross (New York Times)


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