More cuts for the state’s community colleges

Tutoring help at some community colleges will be nearly eliminated. Libraries will be closed on weekends at some schools. Class sizes will increase. Security will be cut or eliminated at some of the campuses, and art programs will be scaled back.

These are just some of the cuts college officials say will have to be made for the fiscal year starting July 1 at the state’s 12 community colleges if the Board of Regents approves its proposed budget next week.

“I struggle with an urban college, where we have over 8,000 students, and I cannot provide them the kind of quality education they need,” Dorsey Kendrick told the regents’ Finance Committee Thursday. Kendrick is president of Gateway Community College in New Haven, the state’s largest community college. 

“It’s unconscionable to me as a leader to not be able to provide for those students I serve in the community,” Kendrick said. She added that she has a new building that is barely being used because she doesn’t have the staff or programs to fill it.

“A building I cannot afford is a very serious issue,” she said, joking that she’s tapped out private donations and when people see her come they hide their purses. “I am tired of nickeling and diming.”

These looming cuts at the state’s dozen community colleges come even with the proposed budget increasing spending at the dozen schools by $19.9 million, a 4.8 percent increase over this school year. 

The problem, several college presidents and officials told the committee, is that costs outside their control are increasing too rapidly, and revenue from enrollment growth can no longer be depended on as the state’s population shrinks.

Almost all — 95 percent — of the increased spending is budgeted for the rising costs of staff and their health care, pension and other benefits. The college system next fiscal year must give all of the unionized staff a 5 percent pay raise because of a contract negotiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

That mandatory pay increase is estimated to cost the college system $10 million to $12 million in the coming fiscal year. State funding for the system is slated to increase by $12.3 million next fiscal year.

“I am stunned we got as much money from the state as we did,” said Gary Holloway, chairman of the system’s budget committee. State funding for the college system in the previous two fiscal years dipped 15 percent as the state worked to close historic deficits. For the fiscal year starting July 1, state lawmakers had to close a deficit that topped $1 billion.

Manchester Community College President Gena Glickman said there is no question the cuts have had an impact on students.

“Students are waiting a week for a returned phone call,” she said of the school’s financial aid office. “We don’t have staff to answer the phone.”

Between the elimination of most tutoring services, intramural sports and weekend library hours, “We impact every area of the college… It’s so tight you start nipping at bones instead of fat,” Glickman said.

And none of the college officials at the finance committee thought the fiscal situation the 60,000-student community college system would improve anytime soon.

“We’ve got to find a way to address these issues, because I agree these are unacceptable [conditions] from what I hear, and certainly stressful,” Holloway said during Thursday’s meeting before the committee approved the budget.

Possible solutions were floated during the meeting, though they were not included in the proposed budget. These included cutting financial aid, charging for on-campus parking and instituting tiered tuition for programs that are more expensive to run.

“These students need us, and all we do is keep cutting, cutting, cutting,” said Rose Ellis, dean of administration for Norwalk Community College. “It’s hard and it’s sad. We have to look these students in the eyes and say, ‘No.’… We turn people away.”

The proposed budget does seek to reverse the trend of the system heavily turning to part-time, less experienced teaching staff. The plan calls for hiring 57 new full-time staff (which includes faculty and other staff) and cuts the number of part-time lecturers and graduate assistant positions at the community colleges by 64.

And while officials pointed out that the quality of the colleges are getting worse year after year, Holloway said it’s at the top of his list to fix.

“The community colleges are what keep you up at night,” he said, before the budget was forwarded to the full Board of Regents for a vote next Thursday.