Higher Ed savings expected, regents president says

The state’s newly merged higher education system expects to meet a target of $4.3 million in administrative savings over the next two years — money that could be used to hire more full-time faculty, the system’s top official said Tuesday.

The projected savings from a reduction of bureaucracy was a central element in the argument for merging the Connecticut State University System, the state’s community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College.

The merger, finalized in April by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state legislature, created the Board of Regents to govern 17 institutions, including the four-campus CSU System, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak.

Some higher education experts say that reorganizations often cost more than anticipated and fail to achieve savings, but interim Board of Regents President Robert A. Kennedy was optimistic that the merger would meet a projection made earlier this year.

“Even at this early junction, I am confident that we will meet or exceed $4.3 million in savings over the next two fiscal years,” Kennedy told board members at a meeting Tuesday.

It was part of a mostly upbeat message from Kennedy, who called the merger “a great leap of faith” and outlined a series of goals as the board begins its first year on the job and seeks to define its role.

Against the backdrop of a slumping economy and shrinking budgets, any savings from the merger should be returned to the campuses, particularly for hiring faculty, Kennedy said. The board, Kennedy said, must find “new and innovative ways to do more with less.”

At both the CSU system and the community colleges, there has been a steady decline in the proportion of full-time faculty as colleges have turned increasingly to less expensive part-time instructors. At the community colleges, where student enrollment has grown sharply, the percentage of full-time faculty fell from 51 percent in 2005 to 40 percent this year.

“There is a real problem between the number of full-time faculty and the number of part-time faculty … maybe even to say we are at a crisis point,” Kennedy told the regents.

He also said the regents should focus on improving students’ preparation for college. A state report last year said that more than 70 percent of students in Connecticut’s community college degree programs are in need of remedial math or English, as are nearly two-thirds of students in the CSU System.

To address the issue, Kennedy called for better teacher training programs and new partnerships between colleges and elementary and secondary schools to emphasize arts and science.

Another objective for the board should be to make it easier for students to transfer among campuses, he said. Although the state’s colleges and universities have adopted various transfer agreements over the years, some obstacles remain, he said. The transfer process, he said, “really needs to be seamless.”