Private colleges tell Malloy they face too much state regulation

Quinnipiac University has been waiting almost a year to get approval from state officials to begin offering the first anesthesiology assistant masters degree program in Connecticut–and though two full-time professors were hired months ago, it may take another year to get the program running.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” Quinnipiac president John Lahey told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Monday during a discussion with the leaders of the state’s private colleges. “Why would the Department of Higher Education stand in the way?”

Quinnipiac officials are not alone in their frustration with the time-consuming approval process needed to start a new program or get a degree reauthorized at the state’s private non-profit colleges, says Judy Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges.

“The process is burdensome and we pay for it on our own dime,” she said, adding that a survey her office conducted shows 39 other states do not require a state agency approve new programs.

Malloy was receptive to the complaints about delays, but not to the pitch for elimination of state oversight.

“I happen to agree with you that we over-regulate,” he said, promising the newly reorganized higher education system will tackle this problem. “We are going to have something else evolve.”

But, he warned, he doesn’t see himself supporting an outright elimination of the approval process.

“I just think we should play a smaller role in regulating,” he said. “I don’t advocate a total withdrawal.”

That message did not likely sit well with officials at the private colleges, who have been asking the state for years to back off.

“Dropping program approval would allow us to expedite new programs,” said Neil Salonen, the president of the University of Bridgeport.

“There are already outside reviewers looking at independent college programs,” a list of talking points circulated this year to legislators on why the state approval process needs to be thrown out. “It is in our best interest, and more importantly, the interests of our graduates and the employers of our graduates, to offer degree programs of the highest quality.”

The higher education reorganization preserved the approval process, requiring now that the State Board of Education approve and reauthorize all new and existing programs.

“We do not drag our feet and we have not been overly bureaucratic,” said Jane Ciarleglio, who is in charge of analyzing proposed programs at the new Office of Financial and Academic Affairs for Higher Education. “This process is in effect to protect the students in the state of Connecticut that when they put their money down they are getting a good program… There has to be someone checking these schools.”

Ciarleglio said the approval process for new programs or renewing existing programs every three to five years on average takes three or four months. The holdup with Quinnipiac’s approval she blames on school officials not being able to show that these students would have a job available to them because state law requires a higher degree than a masters to become an anesthesiologist.

“They wouldn’t be able to get a job in the state when they graduate. There’s a consumer protection issue in play here,” she said.