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WCC’s MSP Contract Inflates IT Spending

Last June, WCC signed a contract for managed IT services with Ellucian that requires the College to pay the company $436,000 per month for 60 months, no matter what. Well, as you know, No Matter What has happened. The campus is closed. The College is laying off its staff and is uncertain about its financial future. WCC is cutting budgets across the board, except its IT spending.

Had WCC retained control of its own IT Department, the College would have maintained the flexibility to reduce IT spending as its financial situation required. Instead, since March 11, the last day WCC held face-to-face classes, the College has paid more than $1M to Ellucian to fulfill its contractual obligation. This money comes from the General Fund, so other pressing needs of the institution now compete with this managed services contract for funding.

The Ellucian contract offers no flexibility to WCC whatsoever. The Board of Trustees approved a firm, fixed-price contract, which the College is stuck with for the next four-plus years, no matter how good or bad its financial situation becomes. No matter how good or bad the tax collections are. No matter how good or bad the enrollment gets. And no matter how much or little WCC receives from the State of Michigan.

IT spending is now a non-negotiable priority

Things are not great at WCC right now. Spring/Summer enrollment is off. The College still can’t offer any lab-based occupational education classes. The summer trade programs have all canceled. WCC has delayed the badly needed Morris Lawrence Building renovation and the Student Center renovation. The “Advanced Transportation Center” is on blocks.

WCC has laid off full-time staff members, eliminated part-time positions, and partially furloughed the custodial staff to hours-per-month effort. (The custodians have been told to collect unemployment.)

All in all, WCC’s finances are a little sketchy right now, right?

This comes from the April 28, 2020 Board Meeting:

The college continues to prioritize stable/reliable computer infrastructure as a key component of our efforts to support student success. Efforts have included: website, server, network and phone availability/reliability/coverage. Our goal is 99.999% uptime. Wi-Fi reliability is a critical component of our efforts; however, to date we have experienced multiple outages of varying lengths – 11/29/19 (3hrs), 2/12/20 (45min), 2/17/20 (1hr.). Students heavily rely on Wi-Fi and can only access campus resources from their devices via Wi-Fi. Some classes/labs rely on Wi-Fi for classroom instruction. Faculty and staff also leverage wireless connectivity as appropriate for campus operations. In addition, UA, Iron Workers, and others rely heavily on reliable Wi-Fi on campus. On a related note, cellular service on campus is far less than ideal. As a result, reliable Wi-Fi is a life-safety need. As we continue with these efforts to maintain a strong technology environment for our students, faculty and staff, the most glaring immediate need is redundancy of our Wi-Fi controllers. We only have one controller and it was end-of-life on 10/10/16. When it fails or needs security patching/updating, campus Wi-Fi goes down. It is not if, but when it will fail, and it may not always be recoverable.”

College skews IT spending priorities

At the April Board Meeting, the Board approved the purchase of $330,000 of Wi-Fi network equipment. Even though the campus has been closed since March 12. And there are no summer classes or summer trade programs happening this year. And it appears as though there will be only limited classes taking place on campus this fall. In other words, no one is using the Wi-Fi network on campus.

More to the point, the wireless controller in question was end-of-life in 2016 – when the College still maintained its own IT staff. It has been EOL for three-and-a-half years. If the Wi-Fi controller poses a life-and-safety issue now, it has posed the same life-and-safety issues since 2016. The CFO was the executive in charge of the IT Department. The Administration could have – at any time – upgraded the campus Wi-Fi network. It chose not to. Repeatedly.

So it’s a little odd that in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, while the campus is closed, the College is delaying construction and building maintenance projects, laying off staff and cutting budgets, that this particular IT project – which has been of exactly no priority whatsoever to the WCC administration at any time since 2016 – suddenly rises to the level of an emergency.

The Trustees need to ask hard questions when the Administration justifies hundreds of thousands of dollars in IT spending as life-and-safety issues. Especially when these alleged life-and-safety issues have been left running unattended since 2016. Especially when the executive in charge of the IT Department at that time was the College’s CFO. Why did the CFO pass on correcting a life-and-safety issue of such magnitude? And how much money did he transfer from the IT budget while he was in charge?

Photo Credit: Juan Barahona, via Flickr