Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Auditors find community colleges’ $145M computer system flawed

OLYMPIA – A problem-plagued $145 million computer system for Washington’s community colleges was inadequately designed and installed in Spokane and Tacoma schools, state auditors said in a highly critical report released Thursday.

The computer system known as ctcLink was supposed to eventually tie many accounting functions of all 34 community colleges in the statewide system together. It caused problems for student enrollment, scheduling and financial aid after it was installed at Spokane and Tacoma community colleges before the start of the 2015 fall semester.

Problems continued for months with some faculty members not being paid and failures to meet federal requirements for colleges that handle student aid.

The Spokane and Tacoma schools were chosen for a pilot project for the statewide system, and ctcLink still isn’t up and running in most of the system’s 34 community colleges as the costs have ballooned, more problems have developed and the company that sold the system went bankrupt.

Using the system at the other community colleges has been repeatedly delayed as the state has tried to fix problems in Spokane and Tacoma.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which oversees the system and settled on ctcLink, did not do enough to review the design and make sure information on student waivers, tuition and fees was accurate, auditors said in the report. The system wasn’t adequately tested before it was put in place in Spokane and Tacoma, and the colleges can’t prove data from the old computer system was properly converted to ctcLink because they didn’t keep documentation.

ctcLink also doesn’t allow the colleges to upload financial data to the state’s main financial reporting system, which is required for all state agencies. The colleges have to upload that data manually, which involves as many as 2,200 transactions a month for each college, and can’t prove that data is complete and accurate.

The financial ledgers shown in ctcLink don’t match the actual balances the colleges have in the bank. Last year, the difference was more than $18 million for the Spokane schools and more than $1.6 million for Tacoma Community College.

“Both colleges have indicated their reconciliation differences are increasing over time,” auditors said. The board has yet to discover why the balances shown on ctcLink don’t match what the banks report.

In its response, the board said its staff and the colleges are working to address many of the problems auditors pointed out. It is upgrading a new system to upload data into the state’s main financial reporting system and will keep backups of old data when the other colleges switch over to ctcLink.

The board and the college staffs have found some problems that keep the balances from lining up and have developed training for some things that cause discrepancies. An in-depth review didn’t turn up evidence ctcLink is causing the differences. It has set up separate tracking systems in an effort to find the cause.