Facing budget cuts from the state government, the Board of Regents of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities voted on April 6 to consolidate the state’s 12 community colleges into one — a move that immediately drew criticism from community college leaders in the state.
The BOR’s decision comes in response to a projected decrease in education funding of at least $35 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Some of that increased cost will be offset by a 4 percent tuition increase at state universities and a 2.5 percent increase at community colleges. However, those increases are not unusually high and do not compensate for the deep budget cuts that the CSCU system is expected to face as a result of the state’s projected fiscal year 2018 budget.
“We have asked students to bear a portion of the cost of their education through tuition and fee increases, but we cannot charge them the double-digit increases required to balance the budget without compromising affordability,” CSCU President Mark Ojakian wrote in a letter to the CSCU community.
In his letter, Ojakian presented a two-part solution to the problem. The first part would be to consolidate all CSCU institutions and system offices of “non–student-facing and administrative personnel.” As this measure would impact both community colleges and public universities, it would save the system $13 million.
Ojakian defined the second part of the solution as consolidating the operations of the state’s 12 community colleges, which would save a projected $28 million. He did not offer additional information on how this would be accomplished.
Community college leaders criticized the lack of detail in the proposal. Despite this lack of detail, the BOR quickly voted to approve the plan with very little discussion, according to Lois Aime, director of educational technology and president of the college senate at Norwalk Community College.
It remains unclear what exactly Ojakian meant by consolidation, though most believe it will take the form of a central office with each of the campuses serving as satellite campuses, according to Aime and Bob Brown, a member of the BOR Faculty Advisory Committee.
More concrete plans will be made and announced in the near future by what Brown, also a faculty member at Tunxis Community College, referred to as “implementation teams.” To address the uncertainty within the community, Ojakian is visiting all CSCU community college and university campuses in the coming weeks to speak with administrators.
“We’ll be asking a lot of questions on Monday but are not expecting many concrete answers. Frankly, I don’t think [Ojakian] has any,” Aime said.
Members of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Board of Regents expressed skepticism about whether the plan will actually save $28 million. Ojakian did not present an outline of exactly where those savings would be made, though Aime and Brown said they believe much of the budget cut will come from the elimination of high-level positions such as presidents and deans.
These cuts have already begun to happen at Tunxis Community College.
“Our president is retiring at the end of June and there is no search for a new permanent one at this point,” Brown said. “We are getting an interim president.”
In his letter, Ojakian claimed the proposal was based on principles of keeping students first — meaning that “students are at the center of any proposed strategies,” he wrote. Aime and Brown both raised concerns over how this would impact students.
“This is not students first. Each community college has a unique community and student body,” Aime said. “You take that ability away from us by removing the higher-level administration — what presidents do is go out into the community and understand what it needs. We have a foundation that is specific to Norwalk Community College. If there is no Norwalk Community College, what happens to our foundation?”
According to the proposal, most of the savings would be made in the state community college system, not public universities. Brown believes that is the case because the state community colleges are less financially stable than its universities. Some, he said, are just scraping by, whereas others are running on a deficit.
For Vice Chair of the Faculty Advisory Commission to the BOR Barbara Richards, any cuts to community colleges are a concern.
“The community colleges serve most of the low-income students in Connecticut. As a faculty member at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport and a resident of New Haven, I am concerned about the impact of this proposal on our urban communities and our state,” Richards said.
The BOR is composed of 19 members and oversees the state’s four universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College.