College merger means fewer administrators, more faculty

Middletown — Connecticut’s state universities and community colleges could begin hiring additional faculty and staff as early as this fall with $5.5 million in administrative cost savings resulting from last year’s higher education merger.

The savings from the elimination of about two dozen senior administrative jobs could lead to as many as 45 new teaching and student services jobs at the 17 campuses of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, Robert A. Kennedy, the system’s president, said Thursday.

Kennedy’s announcement came as the system’s Board of Regents adopted its first budget. Despite the expected savings, officials cited ongoing economic strains such as flat enrollments, a slight decline in state funds and what they described as a dramatic rise in the number of students needing financial aid.

The addition of new faculty and staff “helps our academic programs, helps our students, and it’s going to help our state’s economic development,” Kennedy told the regents during a meeting at Middlesex Community College.

The streamlining of administration was one of the key goals of the state legislature when it voted to merge the four Connecticut State University System campuses, the state’s 12 two-year community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College.

The $5.5 million in savings exceeded earlier projections by more than $1 million. “I’m immensely pleased we’ve been able to make good on our key intention for this organization,” Kennedy said.

The regents approved a budget that includes $288 million in state funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a decrease of slightly less than 1 percent from the current budget.

In addition to adding new faculty and staff, the budget includes money for start-up costs at new manufacturing technology centers at Housatonic, Naugatuck and Quinebaug Valley community colleges. The new centers, scheduled to open at the end of August, have received strong support from the manufacturing industry, Kennedy told the regents.

The budget also includes about $2.7 million for maintenance and operation of new facilities at Gateway, Tunxis and Norwalk community colleges.

Kennedy described the budget as sound but said, “It illustrates the strain of budget cuts on trying to provide a high quality educational system for the state of Connecticut.”

More students need aid

The strain is being felt by students, too.

As state and federal support stays flat or shrinks, colleges and universities across the nation have shifted some of the costs to students. Tuition and fees are scheduled to rise 3.8 percent at the Connecticut State University campuses and 3.1 percent at community colleges in the fall.

The increasing cost of higher education and a slumping economy are key factors behind a sharp increase in demand for student financial aid, officials say. Connecticut State University campuses and community colleges listed nearly $145 million in financial aid expenses this year, a 13 percent increase over the previous year’s cost.

“There’s no question we’re feeling more pressure” to increase scholarship aid, said James W. Schmotter, president of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. “Sixty-five percent of our students have need, and it’s not all being met.”

Krysten Gilbert, a recent graduate of Middlesex Community College who attended Thursday’s meeting, said financial aid is crucial. “I would probably not be in school without it,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”