To the 2018 CT Gubernatorial Candidates:

Throughout the gubernatorial primaries and campaigns, while facing Connecticut’s enormous financial challenges, you have all made clear your interest in helping the state’s businesses and industries. We are a group of community college advocates who would like to encourage innovative thinking and the potential for changes in public higher education that would benefit the state’s businesses and industries, as well as its students.

Community Colleges provide accessible, affordable higher education to over 50 percent of the state’s undergraduates, and nearly two-thirds of the minority undergraduates in public higher education. But they need investment and expansion, not destruction.

Since 2008, state investment in higher education has declined drastically and mismanagement by the Board of Regents has undermined the ability of community colleges to fulfill their mission of affordable access. They have been forced to increase tuition and limit services and programs that offer improved job opportunities and a better quality of life for students and their families. Without workforce talent, Connecticut will never attract and retain business investment and jobs. Connecticut students deserve leaders who understand and value public higher education.

A new governor will have many challenges. Connecticut lags its neighbors in nearly every economic indicator. Connecticut ranked last in economic performance in “Rich States, Poor States,” according to Don Klepper-Smith, in the Hartford Courant, April 28, 2018. “It’s not a Northeast thing,” according to Peter Goia of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “It’s a Connecticut thing.” (Hartford Courant, May 17, 2018.) Several of the state’s largest employers and wealthiest citizens have fled high tax rates and an unfriendly business environment. Our largest cities are impoverished, financially troubled with troubled schools. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation between its white and minority students. These challenges are what a new governor will have to address. Community colleges offer a solution to many of these challenges.

However, the political appointees to the Board of Regents for Higher Education have a dismal record of leadership, including five failed presidencies, in the six years of their existence. Drastic budget reductions and flawed planning have resulted in escalating tuition and fees, declining enrollments, and reduced access for students. The dismantling of the community college system has undermined an established record of growth, expansion, and community support that began with the founding of the colleges in 1965.

Last fall’s plan from the Board of Regents, called Students First, authored by the current president Mark Ojakian, former Chief of Staff to Gov. Dannel Malloy, the original architect of the Board of Regents in 2012, was rejected by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and called “half baked” by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

This seriously flawed plan would create a single college headquartered in Hartford with a bureaucracy to support its operation rather than the 12 community-based, individually accredited colleges in the current system. Resources and leadership will be drained from the local colleges to support a centrally-managed Hartford institution. Far from focusing on students first, as its name suggests, it actually creates obstacles for many of the state’s most disadvantaged students including the large portion of minority students traditionally served by community colleges.

We recommend that a new governor reconstitute the Board of Regents and remove Mr. Ojakian. The Oversight Committee, created by the original legislation to guide the 2012 consolidation of the community colleges with the state universities, could be revived and reformed by a new governor. Community advocates, supporters, regional advisory council and foundation board members from each region, working with faculty, staff, and college leaders, higher education and accreditation experts, could oversee the rebuilding of a resourceful, resilient, relevant and cost-effective organization that would truly put students first.

States from California to Maine are seeking to address the diminished investment in public higher education, but all are seeking solutions that will preserve opportunities for students and support economic and workforce development.

California is exploring a large online initiative while Maine is introducing workforce training programs at its community colleges that support the needs of a wide range of the state’s businesses and industries. We strongly support preservation of the 12 community colleges with local leadership and high quality educational resources, including a full range of student services, at every campus. While many savings have already been realized, additional cost reductions could be achieved through the collaborative development of campus resources and programs by faculty and administrators working together across all 12 campuses.

More than 90 percent of community college students reside and remain in Connecticut to become the majority of the state’s healthcare, public safety, and social service workforce. They improve the quality of life in our communities and because of the collateral benefits of higher education, they earn better salaries, stay healthier, live longer, pay more taxes and help our businesses and our state to prosper.

Our group, the Connecticut Community College Round Table, consists of retired presidents and administrators, former Board of Trustee and Board of Regents members, and other community college advocates. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues presented here in the hope of contributing our combined experience (hundreds of years in state service) and educational expertise to identify how community colleges can continue to contribute to meaningful solutions to the state’s most challenging issues.

Jonathan Daube, President Emeritus, Manchester Community College

Booker DeVaughn, President Emeritus, Northwestern Connecticut

Jules Lang, Board of Trustees for Community Colleges, Retired

Dianne Williams, President Emerita, Quinebaug Valley Community College

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