Southern Connecticut State University is proposing to permanently close the recently renovated six-lane pool at Pelz Gymnasium – just one of many cuts students would notice as the state’s public universities and community colleges work on a budget proposal to close another year of glaring deficits.
Norwalk Community College is cutting its library budget by 30 percent, which means students will have fewer hours to use the facility.
Gateway Community College officials say the school doesn’t have enough staff to keep up with the volume of applications for admission or financial aid since positions are left vacant when people leave – and will remain unfilled – to save money.
And while students will need to pay 3.5 percent more to attend community college next school year, financial aid for poor students is decreasing at five of the 12 community colleges. Two of the four regional Connecticut State Universities are cutting financial aid. The reduction is the direct result of declining student enrollment, officials said.
The community colleges are bracing for 825 fewer full-time-equivalent students next year, a 3 percent decline. The universities are expecting 235 fewer students, a 1 percent decrease.
“We have really cut our operating budgets to the bone,” Cathryn L. Addy, president of Tunxis Community College in Farmington, told the finance committee of the system’s governing board, the Board of Regents. “We are turning the lights out. We just can’t afford the staff.”
The regents oversee the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system, which includes the state’s four regional state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak College. The University of Connecticut is separate.
“Like I always say, the donkey might die. You have to feed the donkey at some point,” Daisy DeFilippis, the president of the community college in Waterbury said of the lean fiscal years her school has faced.
“We have done less with less staff. I don’t know how much less we can do. I am just being honest with you,” Dorsey L. Kendrick, president of Gateway in New Haven told the finance panel.
These reductions are included in a $1.18 billion budget the Board of Regents will vote on during its June 16 meeting.
The public college system faces a $32.2 million deficit, a 2.7 percent shortfall, to continue offering existing programs and services. Tuition hikes approved earlier this year will close 58 percent of that gap; $9.4 million in cuts to staffing, financial aid and other reductions will close the gap another 29 percent. The use of $4.3 million from one-time reserves will close the remainder.
The shortfall is the result of a $22.7 million cut in state funding and an $8.5 million increase in costs to provide health and retirement benefits to employees. Much of the revenue the tuition increases generate will go to offset the decline in students enrolling at the schools.
“This is a very challenging budget that we are looking at,” Mark Ojakian, the president of the college system, told the finance committee. “Times of crisis are a time of opportunity. We are going to have to do business differently. We are not going to be able to sustain even this level of funding in the future. It’s going to be tough.”
The overwhelming majority of the cuts fall on staffing.
Facing mid-year shortfalls, the community colleges did not fill 85 full-time positions in the current fiscal year as people retired or left for other reasons. Those positions will remain vacant, another 67 positions will be left vacant and some people may be laid off in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The cutbacks add up to a 7 percent reduction in full-time staff at the community colleges over the last two school years.
At the four state universities, however, the number of full-time staff will actually be up 44 positions since 2014-15. Eleven of those are faculty members Western Connecticut State University was forced to hire after it was determined that the school was in violation of the contract with its faculty union that limits how many classes can be taught by adjunct staff. The remaining growth in full-time positions was in administrative and manager positions.
Ojakian said any staffing changes would primarily be done by not filling positions as people leave for other jobs or retire, though he will consider laying off employees on a case-by-case basis. Spending for student labor and part-time lecturers also is slated to decrease.
Things might get worse, college officials warned. The state budget for next fiscal year requires the governor to find places to cut $163 million across all executive branch agencies. Higher education typically is hit hard by such cuts.
“Many of the proposed actions included in this preliminary budget look for best-case outcomes; this makes the budget somewhat risk-based,” the budget proposal presented to the finance panel reads.
Here are details of each college and university’s budget proposal: