COD addresses FTES miscalculation, consulting firm to help recalculate

College of the Desert works to correct FTES mistake

Previously, The Chaparral reported a financial mistake that could cost College of the Desert up to $1.8 million was under investigation by COD administration. This article is a follow-up to that report.

by Andrew Morales
Section Editor 

Recently, a discrepancy in the number of Full Time Equivalent Students (FTES) reported to the state was uncovered. This error means College of the Desert had been receiving too much money from the state since 2003.

The discrepancy was caused by using Catalog hours instead of Contact hours over a period of eight years. Catalog hours are hours a class is regularly scheduled to meet during a semester. These hours are printed on the COD Catalog. Contact hours are hours a class actually meets during a semester.

The Chaparral has learned that this mistake was pointed out to COD last semester through a notification from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO)  to President Jerry Patton.

“In March, I was notified that we needed to recalculate our FTES numbers.” said Patton.

Over the following four months, COD has worked hard trying to figure out what went wrong. The CCCCO recommended that a third party come in to help recalculate the FTES numbers.

Robin Cotton, COD public relations technician, directed attention to a proposal written by the auditing firm chosen by COD to fix this error. The proposal came from Heidi White in the Rancho Cucamonga office of Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co., LLP. It was written on Oct. 1 and forwarded to Patton. The proposal outlined what their company would do to recalculate the FTES figure and confirmed they were ready to help. The total cost for their services will be $33,500. Patton approved and signed their their proposal on Oct. 6. White’s proposal was then approved by the CCCCO Board at their meeting on Oct. 21.

Heidi White explained that “Our company does auditing work for other colleges all the time, but we’ve never done anything like this. We just got all the information [from COD] and we expect to finish within the next two to three weeks,” White said.

Patton confirmed this, saying White was planning on finishing their audit by the end of November. He also explained that instead of a possible eight years of FTES recalculation, there were only three years in question. These years were 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2006-07. For these years, the average cost to pay back the FTES could be as much as $600,000 per year. It sounds simple, but the reality is much more complex.

For FTES calculations, the fiscal date is set at July 1. Take July 1, 2011 for example. If a student had a class in March 2011 that lasted until May 2011, FTES would require that that class be counted for the 2010-11 school year. If the class went from August 2011 to December 2011, it would be counted under the 2011-12 school year. Both of these situations have no exceptions. The only exception is for summer classes that begin prior to July 1 and end after July 1.

According to Title V, the FTES numbers of that class could be pulled back to the previous year’s or pushed forward to the following year’s numbers. What COD plans to do is to pull and push classes to make the numbers add up equally to the FTES bases of that year.

COD could still need to pay as much as $1.8 million if things don’t add up, and Patton explained that the college would pay back the money using reserve funds over the next five years. If the payback is as little as $600,000, COD would be able to pay back the state over the next three years.

Results of Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co.’s  findings may be announced as soon as the Desert Community College District’s December 16th meeting.

At the CCCCO, Vice Chancellor Paul Fiest explained that what happened at COD was not an isolated incident. Several colleges in California using Datatel have also experienced this problem, “It’s not common for this to happen to colleges, but it has happened in the past,” he said.

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