CBC students continue to pay extra tuition as state grapples to fix software

Plans to install statewide software system at 34 community colleges delayed

Each year, full-time Washington community college students pay an extra $115.56 to upgrade their school’s computer software.

That includes students at Columbia Basin College.

The fee was supposed to lapse this December, but delays and cost overruns will keep the extra charge on the books for two or three more years — or possibly longer.

Tuition and fees for a full-time CBC student for three quarters are roughly $4,400.

Originally, the computer upgrades at CBC were supposed to be installed and running in January, with bugs then to be worked out as part of a statewide effort. Now, there is no new date set to install the new software at CBC due to a statewide delay in upgrades at most of Washington’s community colleges, said Tyrone Brooks, CBC’s vice president for administrative services.

About 186,650 of the state’s almost 381,000 community college students attend full time and are paying that extra $115 if they stay enrolled for an academic year. The remaining students attend part time.

In 2016, CBC enrolled 6,831 full-time and part-time students, which translated to the equivalent of 5,324 full-time students.

Three percent of each full-time and part-time student’s tuition goes toward the upgrade that has been in full swing since 2014, with a finish date projected for December 2016. Now, the completion date isn’t expected until 2019 or 2020, or later.

When all the work is done, the three percent portion of the students’ tuition costs is supposed to be removed.

The State Board of Community & Technical Colleges greenlighted in 2010 the installation of a new central software system for administration, academics, student finances, enrollments, payrolls and other data across all 34 of the state’s community colleges. In 2010, all of the state’s community colleges used 30-year-old software written in Cobalt, an outdated coding language.

At CBC, this means a computer network that “is very clumsy with a lot more steps,” than needed to coordinate academics, human resource matters, student finances and other administrative work, Brooks said.

The community colleges’ board hired a Denver-area international information technology firm Ciber Inc. for $100 million to install new software — several varieties of the PeopleSoft ERP system — across the state. Starting in 2012, 2 percent of each student’s tuition went to paying off that project. It increased to 3 percent in 2014.

The first stage was to install the software and work out the bugs at three community colleges in Tacoma and Spokane. The work began in 2013 with the systems scheduled to go “live” in August 2014 and to have the bugs worked out by January 2015.

Instead, the three systems went “live” in August 2015 and bugs are still being worked out, state and community college officials told three Senate committees in a recent joint briefing. Meanwhile, the project’s costs have gone up to $109 million, mostly because of the delays.

Problems have included software glitches, issues with training people to use the new software, and the fact that the 34 community colleges conduct their business functions differently from each other.

Right now, the community colleges are working on getting their business functions uniform across the state so the new software will seamlessly fit all 34 systems, said Marty Brown, executive director of the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. Most of the software glitches have been fixed.

“It has had a very adverse effect on our enrollment” due to resulting computer problems, said Lisa Hjaltalin, chief financial officer of the Spokane and community colleges.

So far, Washington’s community college system has paid Ciber $87 million, which covers the software, but not all of the installation, training and testing.

Then Ciber collapsed.

It went on a buying spree of more than $1 billion, which backfired, reported the Law 360 news website. It filed for bankruptcy on April 10 and HTC Global Services of Troy, Michigan, bought it for $93 million in May. HTC eliminated roughly 200 of Ciber’s contracts, which included the one with the Washington community college system.

That means the state colleges do not have Ciber or HTC employees to finished the installation and training for the remaining 31 schools. The community college system is working on how to tackle that loss of help, Brown said. And that puts the upcoming timetable of upgrades — in three or four stages — in limbo until the state settles on a Plan B.

Complicating the issue is that Ciber has filed a lawsuit in federal bankruptcy court against Washington and its community college system to seek the remaining unpaid $13 million the state withheld due to uncompleted work.

“The state has counterclaims it can make. But it is against a company in bankruptcy,” said David Stolier, a senior assistant attorney general.

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