Newly released emails and documents show which current and former senior administrators at the College of the Desert were aware that the district's enrollment figures were inaccurate and the college was overbilling the state – a deception that will cost the district $5.26 million in repayments.
A recent audit by the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized the overbilling as potential fraud, though it did not name names.
Beginning in 2003-04, officials at the Palm Desert college used an inaccurate formula for counting enrollment that assumed most classes met for the exact number of hours listed in the catalog. By that calculation, every three-unit class provided 54 hours of instruction per semester.
But in reality, many three-unit classes met for 52 or 53 hours per semester.
The seemingly small discrepancy was significant because college districts receive the bulk of their state funding based on the number of instructional hours served. Applied over thousands of classes per year, the overbilling added up to millions of dollars that should have gone to other districts.
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office first found out about the overbilling in spring 2011 through an anonymous tip. This summer, the chancellor’s office asked the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, a state-funded agency, to investigate.