The state has made deep budget cuts in the Connecticut State Universities and community college system over the past few years.
That trend may soon be reversed.
The plan proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would raise state support to a level of funding the 16-campus system has not had since before legislators and the governor cut support by $46.5 million in 2011 to help close the state’s record budget deficit.
“This is a beginning of an investment in the Regents’ system in which they are charged to create efficiencies, and we are committed to supplying more money,” Malloy told an audience during his visit to Manchester Community College Wednesday. “I am not talking about what happened in the past. I am talking about what needs to happen in the future.”
Those cuts, among other challenges, have left the colleges with a “dire” fiscal picture, college leaders have routinely said. Over the last three school years, college officials have been forced to cut course availability, increase class sizes and reduce library hours and the number of tutors available. The schools currently have a hiring freeze on hiring full-time faculty.
So school leaders have welcomed Malloy’s announcement in his State of the State address last week that he wants to send the schools $361.1 million next year to cover their operating costs and several initiatives aimed at boosting enrollment.
“We’re here today to celebrate the governor’s goal to support student success by his investment,” Manchester Community College President Gena Glickman said during a news conference. “It’s this investment that will better position us to be on the leading edge with our academic programs and will increase public higher education’s role in sustaining and expanding economic vitality for this state of Connecticut.”
While the governor’s proposal provides $60 million for the college system to spend over the next two school years, he is pitching the initiative as a long-term strategy.
“This is a multi-year, multi-year investment,” said the governor, who has less than a year left in his term. “This is only a down payment… I’m making a personal commitment, and I hope future governors will make a personal commitment to make sure that this program continues.”
The proposal – labeled “Transform CSCU 2020” – would provide $20.4 million over two years for a new initiative that would provide free enrollment in up to three courses at the state’s colleges for the 113,000 Connecticut residents who have left school without a degree. To qualify, they would have to pay for one course themselves for each free course they get. Another $2.5 million would help launch “early colleges” at all the state’s community colleges, where students can graduate high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.
Of the $60.2 million proposed in increased funding over what the colleges and universities are receiving in the current school year, $39.3 million is not earmarked for specific new initiatives.
Budget loophole causes concerns
Malloy is proposing to pay for this initiative using a budget loophole to get around the state’s constitutional spending limits.
This new approach does not sit well with the union that represents faculty at the four bachelor-degree-granting universities in the system. Outside of the buy-one-get-one-free course and the early college initiatives that are provided line item funding, the proposal would provide payment of $32.2 million for “operations and tuition support” to the system’s central office to determine where it should go.
This is a departure from the state’s current funding structure, where the various institutions have separate funding amounts grouped by two- and four-year schools and online college approved in the state budget. Legislators also approve the specific number of positions the state will pay for each year.
“We are all under the Board of Regents, but the community colleges, Charter Oak State College and the Connecticut State Universities have distinct missions and identities and the legislature should be able to channel funding to these systems accordingly,” the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors said in a statement Wednesday.
“Those who are most directly affected by funding decisions – students, faculty and staff – currently have no influence on how the Board of Regents spends its funds, as these decisions are made in Committee with no student, faculty, or staff representation,” the statement said.
The union also expressed concern that the plan does not outline how many new teaching positions will be funded to accommodate the projected enrollment increases. The governor’s proposed budget reflects no increase in state-funded positions.
When Malloy persuaded the legislature last year to adopt the “Next Generation” 10-year plan for the University of Connecticut, promises were made to increase the number of faculty by 259 by the 2023-24 school year — to accommodate the promised 30 percent boost in enrollment. That long-term plan for UConn also promised $825 million in additional state support to cover operating expenses.
A similar plan is not expected for the state’s other public college system.
“We are disappointed that funding for additional faculty and student support is not included in the bill,” the organization wrote.
Asked about how this money will funnel down to individual colleges, Malloy said that will be up to the schools’ leaders.
“That’s a decision for the Regents system,” he said.