State audit critical of pricey new computer system at Spokane community colleges, but rollout will move forward anyway

click to enlarge A new computer system has been a headache for SCC and SFCC.
A new computer system has been a headache for SCC and SFCC.
In a searing report last week, auditors found that inadequate testing and design by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges contributed to the maligned rollout of a new computer system for community colleges in Spokane.

The $145 million system, called ctcLink, was introduced at Spokane, Spokane Falls and Tacoma community colleges several years ago, but immediately caused problems for students and faculty. It's supposed to update the systems for class information, student finance, payroll and data reporting, but it had glitches leading to missed paychecks and students being bumped out of classes. Those problems caused it to be over budget and delayed its implementation at the rest of the 34 community or technical colleges in Washington. Meanwhile, the company that the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges contracted with to implement the software, Ciber, went bankrupt in 2017.

The state audit report looked at a period July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, and found more issues with the system. Among the findings, auditors say the state board "did not identify system requirements during the design" of the software, leading to errors related to tuition, waivers and fees. The report also says the state board "did not adequately test ctcLink before implementing it" in Spokane in Tacoma, which led to "inaccurate student billings, payroll, employee benefits and receivables."

In its response, the state board mostly agreed with the issues identified by auditors, though the board noted that it is still in the pilot phase.

"The purpose of having pilot deployment is to identify configuration and process issues before widespread implementation," the board says. It continues to say, "Overall, ctcLink is functioning successfully as programmed. Students are registering, getting financial aid and paying tuition; employees are getting hired and paid; and goods are being purchased, vendors getting paid and colleges are receiving payments."

The state originally budgeted $100 million for the entire ctcLink project, but the budget is now up to $145 million. The state has already spent about $114 million, and that's without the software being implemented at the other 31 colleges.

The problems have not deterred the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges from continuing the rollout into the other colleges, however. Spokeswoman Laura McDowell says the issues in the auditor's report were captured in a time when the board was already in the process of making some of the changes that were recommended. In October, ctcLink was implemented at Clark College, and the plan is to roll out to the rest of the colleges through 2021, and "possibly into 2022," McDowell says.

She says the board appreciates the scrutiny of the process.

"We want to roll out the best product possible," she says. "We're feeling we're in a very good place moving forward."