Community colleges required to submit data in a timely manner under new rule

Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource

Students at the library of De Anza College in Cupertino in 2019.

California community colleges will soon be required to provide information such as enrollment statistics and application fraud data to state officials, something several colleges have neglected to do in recent years.

The board of governors that oversees the state’s 116 community colleges voted Monday to create new state regulations requiring local colleges to respond within 10 days when the state chancellor’s office requests data or other information. The chancellor’s office said it had trouble getting some districts to respond to requests for details such as enrollment data and information about scammers who try to fraudulently enroll in colleges and steal financial aid dollars.

The new rule was pushed back by at least one local college leader who said it would impose new costs on colleges, but it was ultimately unanimously approved by the board.

It’s “absolutely critical” that local colleges hand over the data when asked to do so, said board vice president Amy Costa. The state’s community college system is decentralized, and the state chancellor’s office must rely on 72 brick-and-mortar districts and Calbright, the only online college, for key information. Costa said at the meeting that if colleges continue to ignore data requests, she would support the introduction of “punitive measures” against districts that do not comply, although she did not specify what might be these measurements.

“In a diffuse system, we have to have confidence that we can partner up,” Costa said.

Under the new rule, following a request for data from the Chancellor’s Office, colleges will have 10 days to turn in the data or, if the data is not available, provide a written response to the Chancellor’s Office outlining when the data will be ready. The General Counsel of the system, Marc LeForestier, said that without such a rule, some local colleges viewed data requests as voluntary.

Since August of last year, the chancellor’s office has requested monthly reports from local districts detailing college application fraud. It was revealed in August that community colleges across the state have been besieged by scam artists who have attempted to fraudulently apply and enroll in courses for financial aid. How much money these fraudsters may have stolen is unclear, in part because of the difficulties state authorities have had in gathering information.

As of March, 52 colleges had not reported any information about fraudulent activity to the Chancellor’s Office. However, about 10 colleges reported within 24 hours of the March board of governors meeting when the new rule was first publicly proposed, said Valerie Lundy-Wagner, vice chancellor of digital infrastructure at the system, during Monday’s meeting.

The chancellor’s office, which has struggled to accurately tally system enrollments during the pandemic, has also at times struggled to obtain college enrollment data. According to a memo provided to the board on Monday, the chancellor’s office received response rates as low as 58% when surveying districts about their enrollment. Statewide, community college enrollment has plummeted since the pandemic began in 2020.

John Weispfenning, chancellor of the Orange County-based Coast Community College District, submitted the only public comment the chancellor’s office has received on the new rule. Weispfenning’s written comment, according to the Chancellor’s Office, was concerned that the new regulations would impose costs on local colleges.

In response to Weispfenning’s concern, the Chancellor’s office agreed that districts will need to commit staff time and resources in order to collect the requested data. The chancellor’s office added, however, that it was simply following the direction of the state education code, which calls on the Board of Governors to “lead nnecessary system-wide research on community colleges and provide appropriate information services, including but not limited to definitions for the purposes of uniform reporting, collection, compilation and data analysis for effective planning, coordination and dissemination of information.

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