$1.8 MILLION ERROR: College of the Desert might have to repay up to $1.8 million to state

Massive payment may be in addition to this year’s planned $2.4 million budget cut

by Andrew Morales
Section Editor

COD liable for up to $1.8 million paying back to state

A calculation error spanning eight years could make College of the Desert (COD) liable for up to $1.8 million. This error compounds the already precarious budget situation at COD. Regardless of the amount that must be paid back to the state of California, the resulting funding loss will be in addition to the planned $2.4 million in cuts. The calculation error misrepresented the number of Full Time Equivalent Students (FTES) attending the college, the number which determines the amount of funding the college receives from the state.

FTES numbers are one of the most critical parts of calculating finances for any state funded college. The college gives these numbers to the state so they can receive money to pay for campus operations, payrolls, and other expenses. The state then sets a base for each college, which cannot be exceeded; if it is exceeded, the state will not pay the college for the additional FTES. This semester, that base is set at 7,479.13 FTES, according to COD Vice President Farley Herzek. The FTES base has been consistently falling over the last few years, hence the reason classes have been cut.

“This is the hardest thing for me to swallow as an educator,” said Herzek. “If the California budget revenue is less than what’s expected, it (the FTES number) most likely will drop.” Last semester’s FTES base for COD was set at 8,001.

There are five ways they are calculated, each one different, but each one significant. COD uses two specific methods known as Positive Attendance and Daily Census. Positive Attendance requires that classes that do not meet on a regular basis tally the hours each student is present for class.  Every 525 hours that students are in class equals one FTES. Daily Census requires that classes that meet on a regular basis for at least five days, but do not meet for a full semester, are counted for FTES. This includes short courses, summer and inter-session classes. The administration does this for each and every class that is offered.

In Fall 2003, College of the Desert used the help of a company called Datatel. This company is centered out of Fairfax, Va. Datatel helped upgrade COD to WebAdvisor. This new software helped students sign up for courses, and helped administrators calculate FTES. The college also brought in an  outside auditing firm to calculate the FTES numbers in 2003. There is no law requiring that an auditing company be used by colleges, but COD prefers it to avoid making mistakes.

Rosalyn Weissmann, Schedule Publications Specialist at COD, designs the schedule each college semester for students to log into. Her explanation is that WebAdvisor was partially responsible, but there was human error as well. WebAdvisor is just a machine, so the numbers the administration put in had to be correct. She explained that before Fall 2003, the system they used (which is obsolete now) would catch any mistakes. With WebAdvisor, there was no similar vetting system, so potential for human error comes into play by missing certain FTES minutes and thus, they are miscalculated.

“It’s like splitting hairs,” Weissmann explained, when asked about trying to find these mistakes.

According to Weissmann, an audit was conducted by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office which then alerted COD to the calculation error last semester. Because the figures were miscalculated, she had to go back, section by section and semester by semester, to figure out what went wrong. She did all of the work this past summer. A copy she showed of the recalculated Spring 2011 classes was 47 pages long. She said the other semesters were longer (because classes have been cut in recent years).  Some of the reports were almost 60 pages in length. She maintains the lists in her office file cabinet all the way back to Fall 2003.

COD submitted their annual report to the state for 2010-11 on July 15th this year.

A new auditing company will go through the eight years in question to determine how much the college needs to pay back to the state. This payment will come from the money received from the state in 2010.

Although the amount of payment has been rumored to be $1.8million,  Weissmann said “the actual payback number has not been determined yet.” She went on to say ” I think this will be set straight soon.”

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