Norwalk Community College

I’d like to address some misleading statements made by Leigh Appleby, Director of Communications of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, in an op-ed published April 4.

The statement that the main objective of Students First “is to ensure our students receive the supports they need from the time they enter our colleges through the time they graduate and enter the workforce” is a bold-faced lie. Recently, the chair of the Board of Regents stated that the consolidation was and always has been primarily focused on students success. This directly contradicts the key points CSCU President Mark Ojakian has been reiterating for the last two years: Connecticut community colleges are broke and this is being done to save money.

The claim that “25 percent of community college student graduates” take classes on multiple campuses is misleading. The number of community college students taking classes on multiple campuses in Connecticut is less than 2 percent.

Mr. Appleby states “Students First does not compromise the individual integrity of our community colleges,” but this is inaccurate. If consolidation occurs then the colleges lose their individual accreditation, become “campuses” of the larger CT Community College, and lose their ability to make independent decisions on curriculum and services to support the students in their service area. The loss of the individuality of colleges also means the potential loss of funds, such as those for Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Addressing the flyer that my peers and I distributed publicly:

The flyer distributed at Norwalk Community College was not distributed anonymously. I, and several of my peers, claim full responsibility for the distribution of that flyer. No “special interest group” has spoon-fed information to us. Every statement we made on that flyer can be backed up with evidence we found on our own through public articles, published minutes, and The flyer also included a QR code that could be scanned, leading to a petition from the Reluctant Warriors that outlined why the consolidation does not put students first.

We stated that Students First could cause students to lose financial aid, possibly cause students to drive to other campuses, have a harder time transferring, and that the colleges could lose accreditation. Every one of these statements can be backed up.

Financial Aid: Even though we do not encourage this, it is a fact of life. If a student doesn’t do well at Norwalk Community College, if their GPA slips below a certain threshold, that student is no longer considered in good-standing and cannot receive financial aid at NCC. In the current college system, that’s not the end of the world, this student has the option to start over at Housatonic, or Gateway, or wherever they care to go. Under the consolidation, this fallback disappears. Additionally, as the system office has taken funding away from the 12 colleges to develop the structure of the single consolidated college, the colleges have less and less money to maintain accreditation. It is possible one or more of the 12 colleges will lose accreditation because of this and students will not be eligible to receive financial aid if that happens. This issue is aggravated by the 2 percent tuition increase community college students face next year, a number anticipated to grow, according to an MIT study that saw an average 7 percent increase in tuition under college consolidations.

Transferring:  An example of an unintended consequence of program alignment is that Norwalk CC currently has a 2+2 agreement with RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) in Troy, NY. Our engineering students graduate from NCC and enter RPI as rising juniors. This is based on an agreement that requires our students to take courses in addition to those listed in the standard engineering science degree that is part of the statewide College of Technology (COT) initiative. Norwalk faculty asked RPI if they would continue to work with them if all curriculum had to be aligned because of consolidation of colleges. They responded that they need to see how this will play out before they decide whether or how it will continue.

I’d also like to point out the emphasis that CSCU continues to put on entering the workforce. This is not the reality for students who will go on to four-year institutions. Mr. Appleby has omitted a critical fact: many community college students transfer: 49 percent of the 1.9 million bachelor degrees produced last year were community college transfers. Those are not just numbers. They are student’s lives, their educations, their lifelong goals, and their ambitions. By threatening those pathways, you are threatening thousands of students’ dreams.

Commuting between campuses: One of the hot selling points of the Students First initiative is the ease of taking classes on other campuses. Under the consolidation, the standardization of programs and class curricula across the state opens the door to cancel programs and classes at campuses where enrollment is down.  To graduate on time, students would logically have to take classes on other campuses where those programs and courses are still offered. The logistics involved with commuting between campuses is something that may appear easy on paper, but it’s another story when you spend hours every day sitting in rush hour traffic, lining up train and bus schedules on top of doing homework, taking care of families, working full time jobs, along with the other numerous responsibilities community college students face daily.

Accreditation issues: The New England Associations of Schools and Colleges noted serious concerns with Mr. Ojakian’s initiative in their letter of April 25, 2018. That speaks for itself.

My peers and I reject the condescension of Mr. Appleby, which only shows just how little the higher ups at CSCU think of the students entrusted to their care. We stand in solidarity with Jeffery Davis and Prof. Terrance Delaney and we extend our gratitude to the Connecticut Mirror for continuing to give us a voice.

Romy Stewart is a student at Norwalk Community College. This op-ed is endorsed by fellow students Mahmoud Mazloum and Jonathan Smalls. 

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  1. Congratulations to NCC student Romy Stewart for this cogent and convincing piece. As a long-time professor of English at NCC, I am happy to see students speaking up, and I hope Governor Lamont, Speaker Duff, and all the CT legislators listen.

  2. I read the different perspectives on this, and the bottom line is the entire system is quickly becoming insolvent because it is too reliant on state funding and the states balance sheet is in really bad shape without massive economic growth (that we are not getting yet). So unless you fix your cash flow problem, you will all be out of business anyway. It does not matter what you call it; the issue is one of economics, not politics The rate of default on college debt is dangerously high (11.9% @ + 90 days overdue) so I expect hundreds of schools will ultimately fail.

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