An open letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy and his appointed Board of Regents for Higher Education in Connecticut and the Legislature of the State of Connecticut:

While neighboring New York has declared free two-year and four-public education, and Massachusetts/Rhode Island maintain their high standards for accessible public education, Connecticut seems to have lost its collective mind this week with the passing of BOR President Mark Ojakian’s plan to consolidate and possibly eliminate the Connecticut Community College system in our state.

While the BOR plan presents its case by repeatedly stating that it is a “student-centric” plan to make higher education in Connecticut sustainable, it is clear that this is a top-down plan, being implemented without input from anyone involved in the classroom or with students on campuses. The plan has been approved by the BOR because it circumvented the state legislature. It is hardly student-centric as it raises tuition and fee structures on community college students who can least afford it.

In case you’ve forgotten who attends community colleges, here is a short list of the different students who make up the approximate 100,000 community college students across the state:

  • Students with disabilities, physical, emotional and/or learning
  • Students from depressed socio-economic backgrounds
  • Students who were or were not accepted into a 4-year college, but decided to savemoney on tuition and transfer
  • Immigrants, first generation and international college students, often ESL
  • Returning/retraining vocational and transitional students, seeking flexible schedules,online learning or on-the-job training certificates
  • High school students taking college level courses
  • Four-year college students who are “picking up” a course to transfer
  • Anyone with a dream and desire to know something more in a discipline area such asthe arts, whether they are already a professional in that field, or just getting started
  • Veterans and active duty military

In other words, everyone!

Through education, we lift the next generation in Connecticut out of poverty. We contribute to the state economy ten-fold. We rise to the challenge to create a civic-minded citizenry. And yet, this most recent BOR plan seeks to not only undermine our mission, but destroy it altogether by removing essential administrative positions from our campuses, creating fee structures that will put our programs out of business, and weaken the collective bargaining unit by removing “anyone with a supervisory role” such as Department Chairs from union membership.

This is union busting, pure and simple. This cannot stand. The people of Connecticut do not want a desperate landscape in which to live, but by removing community colleges from that landscape, as this plan threatens to do, that is exactly what will happen. Young people will not stay in a state that does not support its higher education. Why should they?

The poorest of the poor will not grab hold of that ladder to climb out of poverty– not when it is so thoroughly out of their reach. Crime will go up. The income gap and disparities will rise– Connecticut already has one of the highest disparity rates in the nation.

Why would the State of Connecticut allow an appointed Board of Regents with not a single member having experience in higher education, determine the fate of its community college system? The savings from such a plan do not add up, and the loss of the community college system in the state may prove too great to recover from.

I write this in hopes that there is still some intelligent force present within our governing system, who will see the folly of this plan, and make the necessary amends. I write this for my students, who embarking on their academic and career plans have placed their trust in me as their professor in a field which they hope to enter someday. I write this for the state which I have lived in all my life, although I’ve traveled outside of it, and have seen many beautiful places, Connecticut remains unique, and was once a place I thought cared greatly about its citizens.

I implore the governor, the Board of Regents, the legislature and the people of Connecticut to look deeper– if the problem is one of a state budget deficit, then let’s tackle that together, with input from all sides, but do not balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it, community college students, faculty and staff. Recognize that when you do so, you pay now and you pay again in the future, as the cycle repeats itself. It is a very difficult cycle to break. We cannot hope to do that without community colleges in Connecticut.

Maura O’Connor is a professor of Graphic Design at Manchester Community College.

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