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Part II: CFCC dissolved its ‘full-time equivalency’ department. What does that mean?

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CFCC
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Over the last four months, Cape Fear Community College has removed several key employees charged with overseeing the college’s full-time equivalency reporting — essentially, the enrollment levels that translate into how much state funding the college receives.

Note: This is the second part of a series of investigative reports on Cape Fear Community College. Stay tuned for additional installments throughout the week, and a special edition of The Newsroom on Friday. Find Part I here and Part III here.

In May, CFCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Jason Chaffin signed a severance agreement with the college. The same month, the college also decided not to renew the contracts of full-time equivalence (FTE) Compliance Director Nina Taylor and FTE Compliance Technician Bonnie McGlauflin.

Like Chaffin, who had oversight responsibilities over the college, Taylor and McGlauflin had a key role in ensuring compliance with the college’s FTE. They were essentially the fact-checkers for the largest source of funding the college receives from the state.

McGlauflin joins a growing number of former CFCC employees who have alleged a toxic workplace after leaving the college.

“It's been a stressful, toxic environment for years. Although I had hoped to retire in a few years, I'm grateful to be away from it. There are few people left that I could trust, especially administration. It wasn't always like that. I had built close relationships with many employees over the years. I was not given a chance to even say goodbye to anyone. It used to be a really great place to work. Employees weren't ‘reorganized’ every year like they are now,” said McGlauflin.

Auditing FTE

In this year’s budget, CFCC is receiving $30.8 million from the state for the ‘curriculum’ budget FTE. For continuing education, it’s $4.2 million, and $747,230 for basic skills. This funding accounts for about 60% of the state’s contribution to the CFCC budget.

For that reason, auditing FTE reporting is important and consequential.

CFCC President Jim Morton has often pointed to the importance of FTE, including at an August 16 meeting welcoming staff back to campus for the fall semester, where he said, “we’ve really been focused on FTE because that's where the money is. In any organization, the force of the cash is the lifeblood, without it, you're gonna die, you can’t start to survive, and you can’t thrive.”

Just one FTE, for example, a Tier 1A course like construction management or nursing, is worth $4,889.65 (this year’s FTEs have increased in value slightly from past years). If Taylor and McGlauflin were to find an auditing issue and retract that FTE, the college doesn’t get to claim that amount. That could happen for a number of reasons, for example, if a student dropped the class or isn’t maintaining a high-enough average.

WHQR received raw data from North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) on the FTE for CFCC from 2016-2021. To show what the auditors do, they have a draft report versus a final one.

Between fall 2020 and spring 2021, as a result of McGlauflin and Taylor’s efforts to keep the college in compliance, they had to subtract 152 FTE. Because these FTEs can be worth between roughly $2,100 and $4,450, WHQR was only able to estimate the financial impact based on an average FTE.

According to WHQR’s analysis, the college received roughly $575,000 less in FTE funding after the review.

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HQR
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FTE data derived from NCCCS and CFCC documents. HQR analysis of FTE financial loss/difference (estimate).

Unfinished business

Due to Taylor and McGlauflin’s May dismissal, they were unable to finish their final FTE reports for spring 2022.

“The spring ICR (Institutional Class Report) was not due to be transmitted until the second week of June, so we were unable to complete our process. Everything that was being worked on in my office was left as it was when we left on May 31. I had just begun entering adjustments into the database, Colleague, for both CU (curriculum) and CE (continuing education). Michael Cobb (Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Compliance) was responsible for these spring ICRs,” McGlauflin told WHQR.

She also said one of the remaining employees of the FTE Compliance Department, Tucker Lee, who is the son of Michelle Lee, Executive Director of the President’s Office, likely assisted with the continuing education reports — and someone in Student Services transmitted the curriculum reports.

The college has yet to respond to WHQR's July request to confirm this, but McGlauflin said when their department was dissolved, these roles, known now as ‘records specialists’ were moved under Student Services. Tucker Lee, who received a promotion in May, making $65,004, is there now, too.

“There was so much left to do when we were fired, that I am fairly positive none of the remaining adjustments for both CU and CE had been entered prior to transmission of both ICRs,” said McGlauflin.

Editor’s note: CFCC considered McGlauflin’s departure to be due to ‘non-renewal/position eliminated.’ But from McGlauflin’s point of view, she was fired.

Coaching letters to address FTE non-compliance

According to past state audits, CFCC has had issues with FTE compliance. Although not serious enough to trigger a fine or investigation, they do represent a recurring issue.

When ensuring compliance with FTE, Taylor and McGlauflin would receive reports from Student Services about how they counted student course credits or FTE. They would then have to make adjustments or deductions if a student was not in compliance with course requirements.

Essentially, Taylor and McGlauflin’s job would be to say, ‘Yes, you can count this FTE, they are in compliance,’ or ‘No, these courses are out of compliance and the college cannot count them.’

But if the college did count FTE they weren’t supposed to, they could receive a ‘coaching letter’ or worse, have a ‘finding’ in their audit. CFCC is on an FTE audit cycle this academic year.

These findings could then result in the college having to pay potential fines, according to McGlauflin, and possibly open the college up to FTE auditors looking at past years that hadn’t been previously reviewed.

According to the state, “[i]f inaccuracies are found that require the college to revert funding, the amount to be reverted is determined by the formula established by the NC Community Colleges Finance and Operations Division for the year in which the review is conducted.”

According to state community college system board minutes from June 2022, CFCC has had audits with no findings or exceptions in June 2017, June 2019, and June 2021. However, the system office listed CFCC as receiving ‘coaching letters’ with their 2019 and 2021 audits.

These letters often detail where the auditing issues come from – and that the compliance/auditing department would need to coach that department (i.e. Student Services, Registrar’s Office) where the mistakes were made so they wouldn’t have to make future adjustments.

In CFCC’s 2019 letter, the college was cited for having issues with its curriculum records review and the enrollment of students in non-traditional delivery classes.

The problem was that the state FTE auditors found there were “inconsistencies between the enrollment dates on the documentation provided and the dates recorded on attendance records. These inconsistencies increase the risk of reporting the incorrect number of students enrolled at the date in these types of classes, therefore creating a risk of a future finding.”

In CFCC’s 2021’s coaching letter, the college still had the same problem: tracking and verifying the enrollment dates of students.

The system office additionally found two more issues with CFCC’s FTE compliance: curriculum records review in terms of scheduled hours, and career and college promise (CCP) review.

For the ‘scheduled hours’ issue, the state FTE auditors said, “it was difficult to verify the number of scheduled hours for some classes which included class, lab, and/or clinical hours, due to their irregular schedules.”

Further for CCP students or high school students who attend CFCC for classes, the auditors found that “students were enrolling in classes outside of their approved pathways (coursework). College staff responsible for reporting classes for budget FTE (Taylor and McGlauflin) made many adjustments for these errors. It is recommended that CCP Career and Technical Education Coordinator schedule additional professional development in this area.”

It’s not uncommon for community colleges to receive these letters; however, there are also colleges that produce clean audits with no coaching letters like Asheville-Buncombe Technical, Randolph, and Southwestern Community College.

The college has yet to respond to WHQR’s request for comment.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR