A computer system that was supposed to run the financial, student and administrative services online for the state’s 34 community colleges — starting with campuses in Tacoma and Spokane — remains years behind schedule and has gone an estimated $10 million over budget.
In June, Tacoma Community College counted overtime and other costs associated with the ctcLink system at $306,000.
The system, a project of the Colorado-based firm Ciber, has since been brought under enough control that school officials say it is managing TCC’s human resources, financial aid and student services needs. But it cannot yet handle TCC’s financial services and has shown other instability.
In December, a system upgrade triggered a campuswide email to warn students that ctcLink couldn’t process their tuition payments for a time. Although that issue was resolved a day later, a TCC spokeswoman said this week that another seven months of work on the Tacoma and Spokane systems will be needed before any other community colleges can join the system.
As to when exactly the TCC version of ctcLink will work as promised, the spokeswoman could not say.
“Until Financial Services is really stood up and functional for the college, we can’t see an end in sight,” spokeswoman Tamyra Howser wrote in an email. “We are not at a place yet that we can predict and say we are almost there at the finish line.”
The error-plagued rollout of the system, which went live in August 2015, has reverberated at the highest levels of the two colleges that volunteered to be its pilot users.
In Tacoma, an alleged “lack of leadership” by former TCC president Sheila Ruhland during the ctcLink ordeal was cited in a faculty complaint letter a month before Ruhland’s December resignation. Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Christine Johnson told The Spokesman-Review that the schools would not have signed on to be early users if they had known how it would go.
The ctcLink project is the first funded by a statewide account created in 2011 under which 3 percent of the operations fees billed to community college students are pooled for technology improvements. Howser and Marty Brown, the state Community and Technical Colleges board executive director, said the fund is unrelated to the state’s higher-education tuition hikes of 2011 and 2012, which included community colleges.
Brown said last January that officials could resolve the problems quickly enough to roll out ctcLink to more schools in 2016. However, when the problems persisted, outside consultants were hired for $200,000 to review the situation. In November, they recommended waiting until late in 2017 to add more schools to the system.
In the meantime, TCC administrators are still waiting to hear how much of their costs from the ctcLink system will be covered by the state. Brown said an executive committee of the presidents of the system’s other colleges is still reviewing reimbursement requests from Tacoma and Spokane.
Howser said the system is stable enough that “overtime staffing and accruing extra costs is no longer our norm” since the college hired extra employees to help support ctcLink.