CPCC students express concern after ransomware attack throws learning into flux

Students frustrated after CPCC ransomware attack

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Some students from Central Piedmont Community College have expressed concern regarding the fallout from February’s ransomware attack that crippled the school.

According to CPCC, the ransomware attack was discovered on February 10 and led to phones, email, and the Blackboard and Brightspace learning systems being temporarily taken offline.

School officials said the attack corrupted some systems “beyond restoration.”

“This meant a great deal of course information was lost,” said Jeff Lowrance, Vice President of Communications, Marketing and Public Relations at CPCC.

Izzy Soto, a student studying business administration at CPCC, said some of his courses were canceled for weeks as the school worked to deal with the ransomware situation.

“I was waiting on a daily basis wondering what update would be next. What’s going to happen now? Am I going to be able to graduate on time? Is the semester even going to continue?” explained Soto.

Lowrance said school faculty worked to rebuild their courses in the BrightSpace LMS.

“Their hard work allowed the college to resume all classes yesterday,” Lowrance said. “One silver lining is that the college had planned to move all courses to BrightSpace in time for the fall 2021 semester.

Soto said his concern is that all the work he had previously done on Blackboard this semester, including the grades he had achieved, appears to be gone. He is now working to learn the new learning system, BrightSpace.

“All the hard work I did for the months before this don’t matter. I’m relying on three or four grades to either pass or fail me my senior year,” said a concerned Soto.

WBTV asked Lowrance about the student’s concerns Thursday.

“I know such situations are being handled on a course-by-course basis, and the college will do all it can to limit any negative impact on the students. Clearly the cyber-attack is not the fault of anyone at the college - students, faculty or staff. We will have to work together to get through this challenge,” said Lowrance in an email. “It’s the college’s goal that all students complete the semester and stay on-track in their pursuit of a degree, diploma or certificate. They just need to be patient while faculty work through the process for each course and it’s specific requirements.”

Dan Lipe, a CPCC student from Albemarle, said he wants a refund from the school after the ransomware attack eliminated coursework for several of his classes.

“I trusted them to provide a secure product and they absolutely failed,” said Lipe. “Such a significant portion of the course that I paid for is missing now, about 15 percent of the total course time and about a quarter of all the content is just gone.”

Lipe said he has officially requested a refund for his semester tuition, but it has not been given yet.

Lowrance sent WBTV the following statement in response to questions about refunds:

Regarding refunds, the NC State Board of Community Colleges code does not allow colleges to provide refunds once 10-percent of the term has been completed. Community colleges in North Carolina do not keep student tuition. The colleges collect tuition at the start of each term, and per state code, send all tuition to the NC Community Colleges system office in Raleigh. Colleges then receive state funding based on the previous year’s enrollment.

Community colleges in eastern North Carolina impacted by hurricanes over the last few years and others that have experienced cyber intrusions have not been able to provide refunds.

Given Central Piedmont’s situation, students in 16-week classes have completed almost half of the semester, so the question becomes, “Why not hang in there, and stay on-track in your studies?” Students just need to talk with their instructors concerning their specific classes and the plan for moving forward.

Soto said he is not at the point of demanding a refund, but would appreciate some leniency when it comes to his course grades.

“At the end of the day, CPCC has helped me so much. I wouldn’t have been able to get the funding for a four-year degree or been able to pay for anything out of pocket. I would just like to see my grades come back, a curve on some things, just simple things like that,” explained Soto.

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