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Accounting fumble, superfluous zero blemishes HCC audit

Haywood Community College had to pay back $126,000 in state funding after accidentally inflating its enrollment numbers.

The state doles out community college funding based on enrollment. HCC inadvertently reported more students than it actually had, however, and as a result got more money than it was supposed to for last year.

A forestry class was over-reported as having 90 students instead of nine. And a history class was accidentally reported as having 227 students, instead of just 27.

The extra digits were simply a data entry error and nothing intentional or fraudulent, said HCC President Dr. Barbara Sue Parker. Parker briefed the HCC board of trustees on the issue at its regular meeting this week.

The error isn’t reflective of the employee who made it, Parker said.

“This person is extremely careful and extremely particular and was extremely upset this error had occurred,” she said.

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Parker said the mistake had a silver lining. The college examined its reporting processes and realized a “second set of eyes” was needed in the future.

“Had someone from curriculum been looking over it, it would have been clear this number was askew,” Parker said. 

Enrollment numbers are reported to the state for each class. With so many part-time students — taking just one or two classes a semester — a total head count would be too simplistic.

Instead, funding is based on the cumulative, combined course load. That means tallying the number of students in every class for every semester.

Those numbers are checked as part of the annual audit. The outside auditor cross-references the number of students reported to the state with the actual attendance records for that class and compares them against a massive student database, and even verifies that an instructor is on record as being assigned to the class, according to HCC vice-president Laura Leatherwood.

It’s only a spot check, however. The auditor picks a random sample of classes to look at. 

HCC officials actually discovered the error in-house before the auditor came, while in the process of compiling the records the auditor was going to need.

“The minute we realized we had a problem we self-reported,” Parker said when briefing the HCC board of trustees on the issue at a meeting this week. “It has been paid back and we have a clear slate, but it will be a material finding in our audit.”

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