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Our View: Fraud against COC costs us all

Posted: November 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
This Signal file photo shows College of the Canyons Valencia campus. This Signal file photo shows College of the Canyons Valencia campus.
This Signal file photo shows College of the Canyons Valencia campus.

Recent incidents of student fraud against College of the Canyons and the state have administrators scrambling to find ways to stop students from taking advantage of past lax oversight and poor money management on behalf of the state, leading to roughly $1 million in unpaid fees.

This money has to then be repaid by the college, meaning that the college loses out on $1 million in projects, classes and teachers, and the taxpayers are the ones funding the practice.

There are two ways that individuals have been scamming the college; one of them already has a fix in the works, and there are ways to remedy the second.

The first: Students have been exploiting the college’s enrollment system by dropping out and relisting back into classes multiple times and avoiding class-enrollment fees.

The previous system allowed for a seven-day window from the time a student signed up for a class until the time fees were due. But some ne’er-do-wells found a loophole that allowed them to keep restarting the seven-day clock to prevent the system from realizing the student hadn’t paid.

This practice both defrauds the college out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it takes up seats for students willing to pay for the classes.

Fortunately, COC starting in fall 2012 will put a stop to it by automatically dropping students from classes if dues haven’t been paid by the first day of class.

We hope this will stifle the cash hemorrhage that has been happening lately.

But the other method of fraud against the college will require a massive overhaul to remedy, and the fraud is one that can be used against any community college in California.

Individuals have been using false names and information to apply for academic grants and getting thousands of dollars in checks from the federal and state governments — money that should be going toward classes, books and various other expenses.

There have been instances of people signing up for classes and never actually attending. People have also been using the names and information of prisoners to defraud the grant system.

Blame for allowing the scams to occur lies mostly with Sacramento, as COC mostly acts as a middle man between the state-approved, taxpayer-funded grants and those abusing the system.

This scam isn’t as easy to fix as changing details in the enrollment program, but it is possible.

We see the obvious solution would be to change from a money-based delivery to more of a credit-based one that goes directly to the college, not the students.

It could save potentially millions of dollars all over the state if grant money were funneled to colleges and used as an account for students to draw from for class fees, books and supplies sold at college bookstores instead of mailing checks to legitimate students and criminals alike.

With this method, if an individual were trying to pocket a grant check without actually attending classes, the school wouldn’t lose any money, because it never left the school in the first place.

Though there have only been a handful of verified instances of fraud, COC is just one community college of the 112 in California, so the potential savings could be massive. It would cut down dramatically on losses, and would help colleges across the state retain classes and staff, instead of losing millions of dollars to scam artists.

Whatever the remedy, let’s hope that the state and COC find a way to keep taxpayer money out of the hands of thieves and put it to use for deserving students.


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