As sure as “death and taxes,” the question of whether the Board of Regents for Higher Education should exist reemerges every time there is a statewide election. The arguments to dissolve the BOR usually fall along one of two lines: “Dan Malloy created it, therefore it’s bad” or “the System Office does nothing, it is a waste of money, we are just fine on our own.”
The State of Connecticut is better off having merged its public higher education system. Period. We are an example of what works in Connecticut.
First, let’s not ignore the facts. Since the merger in 2011 of the community colleges, state universities and Charter Oak State College under one board, the BOR System Office has decreased staff by 23 percent. That among other factors has saved the system, the state and Connecticut taxpayers $30 million.
A perennial quip against the BOR is that “they have wasted money that could have gone to the colleges.” Yet, out of fewer than 150 employees, 60 are IT staff dedicated fully to supporting the 12 community colleges and the rest include facilities management, legal services, and financial services that would cost much more to replicate under three boards or separately in 17 colleges and universities.
There are other services that will be shared in the future. For example, currently, we have 17 institutions with 17 different contracts with the same vendor, and 17 different marketing campaigns in the small state of Connecticut. I don’t’ believe anyone would argue that is an efficient model. This will soon change.
Second, over the last three years, CSCU has accomplished more as a system meeting student needs — a guiding principle of the BOR. We leveraged our system when negotiating with CT DOT to offer UPass to our students. Now, CSCU students get unlimited public transportation for $20 per semester.
We established a partnership with Jackson Labs to train students for careers in bioscience and biotechnology and expanded our advanced manufacturing program to eight campuses across the system, more than tripling our previous capacity to meet Connecticut manufacturers’ need for a skilled workforce.
Through a renewed $750,000 federal Safe and Friendly Environment (SAFE) grant from the federal government, we strengthened our efforts on sexual violence prevention across all 17 campuses.
We made transferring easier. Community college students can complete 26 associate degree programs that transfer without hassle to all CSCU universities and Charter Oak without losing any credit and time to graduation. We have also streamlined many programs so students do not have to take extra courses in order to graduate, saving them real money in the process. Shortly, students will have a single application for admission to all of our community colleges.
Finally, based on our primary concern about the high cost of college and growing student debt, we have kept tuition increases as low as possible.
All of this makes it easier for our students to attend and graduate from our institutions. And all of it was accomplished because we are working under the leadership of a single board. Collaboration enables us to truly address barriers to student success and save more than $30 million, with much more to come.
Merle Harris is Vice Chair of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education.