A 10 percent cut to state colleges would be ‘devastating’

Students on campus at Manchester Community College

CT Mirror file photo

Students on campus at Manchester Community College.

“Drastic” and “devastating.” Those are the words the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities uses to describe what a 10 percent budget cut would look like for his 17-campus system.

To make up for a potential $56.7 million cut in state funding, tuition at the state’s community colleges would have to increase 47 percent and at the state universities by 13 percent, reports Mark Ojakian, president of the 90,000-student system.

If a cut of that size were offset entirely through staffing reductions, 213 faculty and 177 other positions would need to be shed. If made up entirely through cuts to financial aid, support would be eliminated at the community colleges and cut 76 percent at the state universities, he said.

“All of these draconian things, that don’t make for the best higher education environment, things like class sizes… would have to be carefully considered,” Ojakian said. “My hope is that we never see a 10 percent cut.”

But the state faces a budget deficit topping $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he wants to rely more on funding reductions than tax increases to close that gap. As a result, large cuts across state government may be inevitable.

“If you are asking me if I am leading with the expectation that we are going to raise a lot of additional dollars, the answer is no,” Malloy, a Democrat, told reporters Tuesday about whether he plans to propose tax hikes.

As his administration prepares a 2017-18 state budget to propose to legislators, his budget office has told state agencies that 10 percent cuts in discretionary spending are “likely” as the state grapples with escalating pension and debt costs. That’s why administrators at all state departments and agencies are examining the consequences of a 10-percent reduction.

For the state’s public colleges, Ojakian says such a large cut would be devastating given that his schools are already struggling to cope with the $39.8 million, 6.7 percent cut they incurred for the current school year.

“We may not be able to meet the needs of the employers in the future,” he said.

Not on the table for consideration are closing any of the system’s 17-campuses, and layoffs will be his last resort, Ojakian said. However, he is hoping to achieve some savings from the employee labor unions.

“I think it’s incumbent upon everybody to sit down at the table and have thoughtful conversations about what each side can do to make sure that we have a  sustainable economy and sustainable future for our employees,” said Ojakian, who, before becoming the CSCU president, was the governor’s chief of staff and who negotiated retirement and health benefit concessions from the state employee labor coalition in 2011.

“What can the state labor force do and what can the administration do to work together to get over this hurdle?” he asked Wednesday.

Read the college system’s full impact statement of a 10 percent cut here.