“History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Mark Twain
In 2011 , Gov. Dannel Malloy promised that consolidating community colleges and the state universities to form the Board Regents and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities would save millions of tax and tuition dollars and support investments in classroom instruction and services for students at the colleges and universities.
In 2019 legislative hearings, while discussing further consolidation, the current system president, the man behind the 2011 consolidation, admitted the promised savings were never realized.
The intervening years have seen a variety of reorganization and cost-reduction schemes promoted by the Board of Regents to eliminate growing budget shortfalls, ongoing funding reductions and the governor’s rescissions. Tuition has been increased every year, sometimes twice a year, enrollments have declined along with tuition revenues, and reserves have been exhausted to cover the increasing costs in an unending fiscal crisis.
In February 2014 Transform CSCU, a plan proposed by the then-CSCU president (the fourth since 2012) sought $45 million to eliminate a $23+ million deficit for CSCU and $21 million for new initiatives such as creating early colleges at every campus for high school students. Now, we’re told that high school graduation numbers are declining so much there’s no one to go to early colleges and community colleges must be consolidated, yet again, to form one institution, the Connecticut Community College that may or may not be accredited!
Another “transformational” scheme, Go Back to Get Ahead, had a goal to convince 7,000 students to complete their degrees after dropping out. An 8 percent increase in enrollment was projected which was envisioned to bring $8.6 million in new tuition dollars to fix the budget shortfall. By August 2014, news reports indicated that the enrollment target would not be reached; only 558 had enrolled for the fall semester. Another promise from the Board of Regents failed. Rep. Roberta Willis, then chair of the Higher Education committee, described the scheme as “a crap shoot.” The Appropriations co-chair at the time remarked “Wow, just wow” when she learned of the looming budget deficit.
In 2015 a new president, (number 5) the former Chief of Staff to Gov. Malloy, arrived to lead the CSCU system with a new plan, Students First, to address the still growing budget deficit. In Dec. 2017, he proposed saving $13 million by consolidating back office operations across the system and $28 million by merging all 12 community colleges into one unparalleled and untested single college to address a $41 million budget shortfall. This new institution, as proposed a year ago, did not meet accreditation standards that ensure quality education and eligibility for financial aid, since the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, now the New England Commission on Higher Education, commented in April 2018 that they “were not persuaded that planning for the new Community College of Connecticut as outlined in Students First is realistic.” Further, the accreditors expressed concerns about the “limited investment in supporting the change, … the proposed timeline … the need to rationalize over 250 degree programs, and the potential for a disorderly environment for students…,” i an April 2018 Advisory to CSCU.
So back to the drawing board and Students First has re-emerged in 2019 to propose a new timeline for accreditation, 2023 rather than 2019. But now this version must address a $57 million budget shortfall and proposes to immediately hire a new layer of regional leadership staff and system office managers to oversee what is promised, yet again, to be a reinvestment of savings in faculty, advisors and counselors that have remained at 2011 levels.
Where have you heard this before? 2011, 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019!
Current estimates of the budget for the system office operations suggest a 30 percent growth from 2017 to 2019. It’s uncertain if these estimates include new staff now being hired for the single-college model that won’t be in effect until 2023. It may not rhyme, but it does sounds like a repetition of failure.
It also sounds a lot like Roberta Willis’ crapshoot. “Wow… oh wow!
The governor and the General Assembly have the authority to stop the failures by exercising oversight and leadership that would actually put the needs of Connecticut’s students first.
The Connecticut Community College Round Table – partial list: Mary Anne Cox, Assistant Chancellor, Connecticut Community Colleges, retired; Jonathan Daube, President Emeritus, Manchester Community College; Grace S. Jones, President Emerita, Three Rivers Community College; William McGurk, Board of Regents member, retired; Andrew C. McKirdy, Chancellor Emeritus, Connecticut Community Colleges; Florence Sheils, Board of Trustees, Connecticut Community Colleges, retired; Dianne Williams, President Emerita, Quinebaug Valley Community College.
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