“The IT Outsourcing at WCC is a Scam. As a Taxpayer, You Should Fight It. Here’s Why and How.”

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of the fact that we live in a pretty wonderful community. About a week or so ago, I heard about proposed layoffs at Washtenaw Community College, and I posted something here on the site about what was happening. As I said at the time, I don’t have a lot of background when it comes to IT outsourcing, but something just didn’t seem right about how this was being presented by the college, and I called for college administrators to slow the process. Well, apparently a reader of this site, upon reading that post, and learning that 30-some local folks could lose their jobs, decided to devote a significant amount of her time, and try to really understand what was going on. What follows is the result of her work. And, like I said earlier, I think it’s testament to the fact that we live in a pretty wonderful community — one in which people actually stand up for their neighbors, and fight to keep them here in our community.

The IT Outsourcing at WCC is a Scam. As a Taxpayer, You Should Fight It. Here’s Why and How.

Washtenaw Community College (WCC) is presently considering a contract to outsource all of their IT work to Ellucian, which is a for-profit company based in Reston, Virginia.

This is a bad deal for taxpayers, it puts 31 local community members out of a job, and, if approved, it puts WCC in a position of long-term financial peril.

Admittedly, there is a lot of information to parse about this issue, much of it complicated. However, I’ve tried to boil it down here into its most critical parts, while also pointing out the misinformation and suppression in which WCC President Rose Bellanca has engaged. There’s a call to action at the end of this story to contact WCC trustees, but not through the contact form on the college’s website (more about that in a moment).

OK, so let’s start at the beginning. Why is IT being outsourced at WCC in the first place?

Bellanca says this deal is needed because, two years ago, WCC experienced a three-day intermittent outage, where a misconfigured network device helped set off a chain reaction campus-wide. That sounds bad, yes, and it was certainly inconvenient. But campus IT networking staff diagnosed and fixed the issue, and there was no data loss, security breach, or other major losses during the outage.

Still—outages are super bad, and so Ellucian could ensure they never happen, right?

Not so much. Muskegon Community College uses Ellucian and experienced a week-long shutdown according to this MLive article, and Ellucian also accidentally shared personal data from students and staff with three other colleges, according to data on privacyrights.org.

Even though Ellucian can’t prevent outages or data loss, WCC still says there’s money to be saved in this deal. Is that true?

Nope—in fact, just the opposite. Bellanca went on the record saying that $600k could be saved by outsourcing IT to Ellucian. This is a sneaky bait-and-switch since, while IT services will remain fixed in price, the College will pay dearly for Ellucian software licensing.

The software in question is called Banner, and it maintains student, alumni, financial, and personnel data. Schools including Purdue and McHenry College have used Ellucian’s Banner software, and have experienced significant increases in costs each year—not to mention paying consulting fees for the recommended services. A detailed account of the hidden costs associated with Ellucian can be found in this open letter that was sent to the WCC trustees, which includes an on-the-record interview from Texarkana President James Henry Russell, who says that using Ellucian cost the college millions, and that its continually increasing fees put the college in financial peril.

WCC claims that IT costs have increased by 25% in the past four years, but it stands to reason that these numbers should be compared to how much Ellucian will cost the college in projected fees, when other more cost-effective alternatives are available.

WCC could actually give the boot to Ellucian and Banner and save thousands, perhaps even millions. Certainly enough to keep its IT staff around.

If that’s the case, why even consider Ellucian in the first place?

Exactly. It’s nonsensical. It’s also a pattern. Bellanca has contracted with Ellucain in the past, including at Northwood University in West Palm Beach, St Clair Community College, and Macomb County Community College.

How much will the Ellucian contract cost?

Right now, the price is set at $5.2 million. That money will be sent out of state to Ellucian employees in Virginia or India or Latin America or the Middle East as part of their “global team.”

In 2016, Bellanca asked voters for a 10-year, $12.5M millage. It passed, and now a significant portion of that money is leaving the community and 31 people. This is, in short, a bad deal for taxpayers.

Okay but Ellucian could hire back some of the employees who are being laid off, right?

Yes, they are promising to hire back all 31 employees, but no one knows at what salary or what their benefits would be. This is risky AF for WCC employees. If you read the open letter referenced above, Ellucian is in financial peril. Standard & Poor gave the company’s bonds a B-rating, which means investors will very likely lose money on them.

Ellucian isn’t necessarily promising to keep jobs local, either. Since they’re based in Virginia with offices in India and Latin America and the Middle East, they could transfer the 31 WCC employees to any of those locations. Paragraph seven of this Reddit article details all the concerns that accompany working for Ellucian, among them transgender discrimination and alarmingly low morale. (Please also see Parts 3 and 4 of the Reddit article.)

If it’s this bad, and people are speaking out like in the open letter referenced above, then surely the Trustees are being made aware of this, right?

Not necessarily, and in fact Bellanca is suppressing communication or dialogue about this. For example, any emails sent through this contact page for the Trustees page don’t go to the actual trustees. This email directs to three people: Bellanca, her secretary, and the WCC general council whom she hired, Larry Barkhoff. No trustees are guaranteed to receive these emails.

What’s more, a petition about this was started on change.org, but the site was blocked from being accessed on on-campus computers. And yes, you read that right: A taxpayer-funded, higher-education institution blocked content for its faculty and students.

Holy shit, this all sounds terrible. What can I do?

We have until June 25th until the trustees vote, so time is short. Here’s what will help.

First, sign this petition on Change.org.

Then, use the list below to email the WCC trustees individually. Cite this open letter, and challenge the long-term fiscal health of this plan. Ask them to vote NO on the Ellucian contract.

Ms. Christina M. H. Fleming, Board Chair: fleming4trustee@gmail.com or TechieGirl97@gmail.com
Mr. Bill Milliken Jr, Vice Chair: votemilliken@comcast.net or info@millikenrealty.com
Ms. Angela Davis, Treasurer: adavis1543@yahoo.com
Mr. Dave DeVarti, Secretary: daviddevarti@comcast.net
Ms. Diana McKnight-Morton, Trustee: dmort4298@comcast.net
Ms. Ruth A. Hatcher, Trustee: rhatcher@wccnet.edu
Dr. Richard J. Landau, Trustee: rjlandau@rjlps.com

Finally, share and forward this blog post to anyone who needs to see it or who may be able to help get the word out.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted June 20, 2019 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, Banner is an extremely commonly used software in higher ed for managing student records and the like. EMU has used it for 20 years or more, and I think their marketshare is very large. I don’t think that’s the same issue as the outsourcing all WCC IT and laying off a bunch of people though– at least I don’t think so.

  2. BigLars
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    Hi Steven, the open letter hyperlinked above addresses this in detail, but the 411 is that Banner runs on really outdated technology and is a terrible system. A contract with Ellucian would lock WCC into Banner (and costly upgrades plus consulting), which will cost more money in the long run. WCC says that contracting with Ellucian for IT services will save money, but Ellucian will make up the limit on IT spending by bilking WCC for software services and upgrades. The evidence for this is in the open letter and the other schools/colleges cited, which have been fleeced in a similar manner. Hope that helps!

  3. iRobert
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Does anyone have any idea why Bellanca is so interested in directing profits to Ellucian?

  4. Demetrius
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    The main reason community colleges exist is to provide local residents with the skills they need to be successful in a variety of in-demand jobs – including IT. If WCC is claiming they’re unable to train, prepare, and hire local IT talent, what does that say?

    This reminds me of how, a few years back, some local school boards decided to “save” a modest amount of money by firing local school bus drivers (many of whom had held these jobs for years, had lived and paid taxes in our community, and had sent their own kids to these same schools) and instead contracted with a large, national transportation corporation that replaced these loyal, local drivers with low-wage, no-benefit replacements from God-knows-where. The end result was painful – driver shortages, late buses, and a lot of angry parents.

    “Penny-wise, pound-foolish.”

    If local public school boards, WCC, etc., plan to continue appealing to voters on a regular basis with requests to renew (or increase) their millages – they had better plan to hire local people, pay living wages, provide decent benefits and working conditions, etc.

    In short, if they want to ask the community for support, they need to act as though they’re actually a *part* of our community.

    Many thanks to the diligent “reporter” who provided such great background on this important story, and to Mark for helping to publicize it.

  5. Kit
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    How does one go about rolling back a millage?

    Asking for a bunch of friends.

  6. The Voters Are Watching
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    @ Kit The bad news is that the current millage ship has sailed. The good news (for the voters) is that WCC has another even larger millage that’s about to expire (2020). The voters should proceed accordingly…

  7. M
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    My suspicion is that this is all about saving money, and has very little to do with the promise of better service for WCC faculty and students. I have no idea what these 30+ people currently receive in the way of health care, retirement contributions, etc, but I know for a fact that their replacements will be earning less in the way of pay, and receiving less in the way of benefits. And that means more money for the administration. I hear people talking about the possibility that the WCC president is receiving kickbacks from the company, but I think the explanation is much more simple. 31 staff members not receiving 401K contributions is itself a big benefit for the college. It means there’s more money for raises at the top. This company is just a mechanism through which WCC can significantly cut labor costs.

  8. Ypsilanti
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    This is about shedding employees, while maintaining at least the current level of service.

    As mentioned earlier, K-12 has often done this already with bussing (and food service and janitorial services), EMU has outsourced athletics ticketing, dining*, and parking. Housing is likely next, and perhaps health services, and yes, perhaps IT in the future, too. (Guesses on my part; I do not know for certain and am just reading the writing on the wall.) The question becomes, then: What happens when an institution has sold off all there is to sell, and the financial problems still exist?

    Such deals don’t necessarily become bad deals for taxpayers. Often, the direct result of such deals are increases in costs to students and staff. One tiny example: EMU used to have a Wendy’s on campus. It was possible to get a meal for $4 – $5. Since privatizing dining, there is now a Smash Burger located just about where Wendy’s was. A typical lunch there now is between $9 and $11. So while the university no longer has the “burden” of those employees, their benefits, and the equipment, the students bear the major increase in expenses.

    * – When asked, at that time, why EMU was privatizing dining, then-interim President Don Loppnow stated “Because it’s not part of our core mission.”

  9. anonimal
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Mark, do you have any friends who work for IT at WCC? I don’t have any opinion one way or the other yet, but it’d be good to know where you are coming from.

    For what its worth, in-house IT teams are generally a bureaucratic nightmare (the tyranny of IT). Maybe this outside firm would be an equal/worse nightmare though.

  10. facebook stalker
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Someone posted the following to Facebook. I thought that you might want to respond.

    “Anyone who says “WCC could actually give the boot to Ellucian and Banner and save thousands, perhaps even millions“ does not understand the issue. You can’t not have an SIS, and no homegrown one could possibly do all that needs to be done or stay on top of ever-changing federal regulations.”

  11. Lynne
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I agree that this is probably mostly to save money. They promise to rehire the workers but they almost certainly will not be hired at the same salary with the same benefits because if they were, outsourcing would not provide any cost benefits.

    It is just part of a trend that has been going on for a while. I know that early in my career, I worked for a non-profit that provided direct care services in adult group homes. What I didn’t realize at first was that what had been union public-sector jobs had been outsourced to private non-profits in order to save money. They saved money by not paying people as much as those with the same job made before. It is as simple as that.

    It is a flaw with our capitalist labor market. Employers always want to get the most out of employees for the least amount of money regardless of if that is good or fair for the worker. That simply isn’t a concern and without protections for labor, you get some pretty bad consequences. The only real solution is to give workers as much power as employers. Unions can help but alas, as has been proven in recent decades, our legal protections for unions are inadequate. One possible solution though is a universal basic income but alone that would be inadequate too. In a case like this, it would need to have some requirement that all who work the IT for WCC be located in the USA.

  12. Dogmatic Dolt
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Aloha, My reading of the news articles was not that they were going to hire all the WCC employee let go, rather they would allow they all to apply for positions. Any hired would most likely need to relocate, out of state at a minimum.
    Just talked to a friend at EMU. They are offering buyouts to faculty and staff in order to reduce those numbers (the power of being in a Union being bought out instead of just being let go). The demographic bubbles are bursting. EMU enrollment is down to 17,000. I am sure WCC is also feeling the enrollment pinch.
    Administrations and bureaucracies will shrink everything else before eliminating themselves. For those at the top, I imagine a new revolving door is being created between top administrators and privatized educational service companies.
    Full disclosure. My neighbor has worked in the WCC IT department for 20 years. A very valued and valuable member of the Ypsilanti community. So much for educational institutions providing economic stability for a community.

  13. The Voters Are Watching
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    facebook stalker – Gosh, then I guess the only solution here is for our favorite hapless, helpless IT-deficient educational institutions to get comfortable with being fleeced annually by vulture capitalists peddling The Software That Time Forgot. Because, you know, it’s not like anybody’s actively developing less expensive, more efficient ERP packages priced in such a way as to avoid bankrupting their customers. Oh, woe! If only there were other alternatives…

  14. iRobert
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Most liberals are such suckers. They always buy the line: “we’re doing this to save money.” They can’t imagine there might be other motives. What a bunch of yahoos.

  15. Demetrius
    Posted June 21, 2019 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    The distinction between what is privately- vs. publicly-owned is key.

    Privately-0wned businesses routinely try to cut costs by outsourcing (or off-shoring) goods and services, and by driving down wages, benefits, and working conditions. Given our current economic system, there’s little most of us can do to counter that, except to advocate for living wage laws, stronger unions, etc.

    On the other hand, community colleges, public schools, etc. are PUBLIC, non-profit entities. We, as citizens are the “owners” or these enterprises, and they would not exist without (our) taxpayer support.

    We therefore can, and should, demand that they be held to a higher standard.

  16. Posted June 21, 2019 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    As for the bigger picture and declining admissions, here’s how I began my last post on this WCC issue.

    “Over the past week or so, I’ve had several discussions with people at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) about declining enrollment and what it might mean for the future of the institution. As for why fewer people are enrolling, there are numerous contributing factors; the population of college-aged people is dropping, the cost of tuition has risen, and larger in-state institutions have started increasing the sizes of their incoming classes. Perhaps most importantly, though, EMU has traditionally been a school for teachers, and, as we know, the state of Michigan, over the past several decades, has become increasingly hostile to public education, meaning that there are fewer good jobs for teachers. And, of course, it doesn’t help that fewer international students are choosing to enroll in American universities thanks to the racist, xenophobic rhetoric and actions of our President. So, when you add all of that up, it translates to fewer students, and significantly decreasing revenues. And the Regents of the university, most of whom are political appointees of Republican governors, have responded like you might expect them to — not by standing up for public education, or fighting for more creative policies, but by looking for concessions from labor, and wholeheartedly embracing a strategy of privatization. And EMU, I should add, is not alone in this regard… Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s post.”

  17. Posted June 21, 2019 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    And this mention of WCC blocking folks on campus from accessing the Change.org page brought back a painful memory… Who remembers the time seven years ago when this very site was blocked by Wireless Ypsi? I’d honestly forgotten until yesterday, when I read this article.

  18. iRobert
    Posted June 22, 2019 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Why did Wireless Ypsi block your site, Mark?

  19. Marie Wood
    Posted June 24, 2019 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this article. It is well done, and goes far more in depth than any of the reporters I spoke to went. I worked really hard on all my posts and research. As terrible as it is to say, the more I learned the more of a lost cause this feels like. I fear Bellanca and the board do not care what we think or want. Tomorrow is the big day. I really hope the community spoke loud enough for them to listen.
    Thank you everyone for the support.

  20. Bill Kennard
    Posted June 24, 2019 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Although most IT functions can be done remotely, there is great advantage to actual physical interaction to both the supporters and the end users. Not being present can also make diagnosing problems more difficult. So they want to replace all of IT (humans) because of a network (device) problem?? After working in IT for 25 years, this seems completely ludicrous.
    Maybe they need to outsource a different set of people… I am also an alumni of WCC and think there needs to be other options considered.

  21. Cloud Viewer
    Posted June 24, 2019 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Here’s the future. Most people in higher ed know it.
    Why would someone tie themselves to the past? Very odd.

    https://www.workday.com/en-us/industries/higher-education.html#?q=

  22. Posted June 25, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    If you want to watch the WorkDay demo video without providing your personal information, go to this youtube link:

    https://youtu.be/yj5NTe9a0do

  23. iRobert
    Posted June 26, 2019 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Marie Wood,

    I’m almost afraid to ask…how did things go?

  24. FormerHigherEdCIO
    Posted June 26, 2019 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The fix was already in with this outsourcing. The current CFO at WCC doesn’t actually have CIO experience in his background (https://www.linkedin.com/in/bill-johnson-b5151b11/) which means that the IT department at WCC has been without true IT leadership for years. And the expected cost savings will simply be Ellucian charging less for Banner and other solutions that WCC uses. Notice how there were no specifics on where the money would be saved.
    I have lots of experience with this as a higher ed CIO for 2 1/2 years. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it can be to determine exactly where IT money in higher ed is being spent. Also, I know for a fact at WCC that many of the supposed IT projects were actually contracts initiated and signed by other parts of WCC and then the responsibility falls on IT to actually implement them. The new website is but one of those. If you find the original board notes for the outsourcing you’ll see lots of references to non-IT driven projects actually being IT’s responsibilty.

    Mark, I happy to share more details about why this is really bad, some of the nuts and bolts of higher ed IT. Feel free to contact me in the info below.

  25. Demetrius
    Posted June 26, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2019/06/washtenaw-community-college-outsources-it-amid-public-outcry.html

  26. iRobert
    Posted June 26, 2019 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    So Washtenaw Community College is essentially just another publicly funded entity which has been hijacked by private profiteers.

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