Community college consolidation would cut jobs, costs, proposer said
Updated 6:40 pm, Monday, December 4, 2017
HARTFORD — Consolidating the state’s 12 community colleges will cut roughly 190 jobs and ultimately — officials hope — save $28 million, a cost analysis released by the system president on Monday shows.
Not consolidating, warned Mark Ojakian, who oversees the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, could result in a doubling of tuition at the two-year colleges within five years.
“We can’t raise tuition that much, we would lose students,” Ojakian said, making a financial case for his “Students First” plan with reporters in advance of a meeting Wednesday of the finance committee of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.
Ojakian predicted it will ultimately be approved by the full board on Dec. 14, with or without the blessing of faculty.
“For two years, I have been talking about the need for change,” Ojakian said. “I have not seen from anybody another proposal.”
Ojakian wants to keep all existing community college campuses — including Norwalk, Housatonic in Bridgeport, and Gateway in New Haven open — but make them branches of a single joint Connecticut Community College, with a single accreditation.
The plan, Ojakian argued, is needed both to provide the system’s 53,000 students with better services and address the state’s dire financial condition.
Faculty like Lois Aime, Norwalk Community College Senate president and chairwoman of the Community College Governance Assembly, remain unconvinced.
Norwalk Community College’s Senate voted 30-0 last month to object to the plan. In addition, Aime said Capital Community College, Three Rivers, Gateway in New Haven and Tunxis have also voted thumbs down.
“It is still smoke and mirrors,” Aime said, after reviewing the five-year cost projections for the plan issued on Monday. “We again have no specifics on the elimination of positions. What positions exactly?”
Crunching the numbers
Projected annual tuition increases2.5%
New college deficit by 2022$13M
Deficit in five years$62M
Erika Steiner, chief financial officer for the system, said the position cuts would include no faculty or staff who directly deal with students such as counselors or advisers. Instead, the 6 percent cut in payroll would come from campus administration, facilities, finance, human resources, marketing and Information Technology departments.
In many cases, positions eliminated on the campus level would be consolidated into systemwide positions.
Each campus will still have a go-to person for academics and finance and staffing based on campus size.
That would appear to Aime to satisfy individual accreditation requirements.
Ojakian said it would not. He added even the accrediting body — the New England Association of Schools and Colleges — has questioned the long-term financial solvency of the state’s two-year colleges on site visits.
Even with the consolidation, and projected annual tuition increases of 2.5 percent, officials estimate the new state community college would be $13 million in the red by 2022. Without consolidation, Steiner projects a deficit of $62 million five years out.
The plan also anticipates flat funding from the state even though it has sustained cuts over the past several years and flat enrollment.
Ojakian said he believes the new model could lead to an increase in enrollment if better services increases student retention.
”I think this is the most responsible step to take at this point in time,” Ojakian said. “This is the best path forward. I want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to cut costs and increase revenue that comes in.”
Experts anticipated the consolidation, if approved by the board, would take two years to complete.