This is a test!
If you wrote a 90-page report, a term paper perhaps, and you got back six pages of comments from your professor that repeated points of the original question that your report was meant to answer, would you call the instructor’s comments:
A. A polite but pointed hint that you missed the point of the question.
B. A suggestion to try again – harder;
C. A “roadmap” for points of interest you had missed;
D. All of the above?
The report’s author, Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, calls the response from the New England Commission on Higher Education to his Students First plan a “roadmap,” and thus misses the point as well as the points of interest.
The NECHE letter makes this mistake quite clear by repeating the NECHE standards for accreditation of institutions of higher education that verify the quality and integrity of programs and services offered by the 12 institutions that Mr. Ojakian oversees. Yet in 90 pages reporting on his plan to create one institution from the 12, he ignores the standards on which the institutions will be evaluated whether they are 12 or 1.
So NECHE’s comments repeat their interest in having information on how the latest version of the plan submitted to their governing board in April 2019 will comply with standards on Governance, Students, Resources, Planning and Evaluation – five of the nine standards overseen by NECHE. They go so far in their letter to repeat portions of the pertinent standards verbatim to emphasize their relevance to NECHE accreditation which guarantees an institution’s integrity and eligibility for financial aid.
Further, they reiterate their view that the proposal for consolidation of 12 institutions is “complex,” especially in the area of academics and faculty responsibilities, and as yet shows no evidence that the proposed structure will have the capacity to deal with the complexities — especially with ongoing efforts towards centralization evidenced by the hiring of costly new administrators in 2019 before defining their roles in the new structure which won’t be in effect until 2023 when it may or may not receive accreditation by NECHE.
The individual institutions will be required to comply with accreditation standards and a regular schedule for review throughout the transition period while the new single institution will attempt to meet these same standards by 2023.
While NECHE says it applauds the plan’s dual goals of preserving services for students and improving long term financial sustainability, they express particular “[interest] in learning how the proposed organizational structure, particularly in the area of academic administration, will demonstrate administrative capacity by assuring provision of support adequate for the appropriate functioning of each organizational component.” NECHE Standards on Organization and Governance, Statement on Standards.” NECHE letter to President Ojakian, July 12, 2019.
The real test is how both these things can happen at the same time and how the institutions will meet the standard for independent operation and fiscal stability during the transition when funds are being redirected to system expenditures such as high level administrator salaries for regional staff before the single institution is fully operational.
It may indeed be a roadmap; Mr. Ojakian and the Board of Regents for Higher Education are clearly headed in the wrong direction.
Mr. Ojakian takes a similarly sanguine view of the budget he presented in his 90-page plan, saying his savings figures had been verified by the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis. Certainly the reductions to the funding for the colleges over the last seven years since the BOR became responsible for oversight and those additional reductions required by the latest budget passed by the General Assembly in June have been verified along with tuition increases, enrollment declines, and losses to reserve funds.
But savings have never been verified by any independent financial expert. In fact in legislative hearings in spring 2019, Mr. Ojakian admitted that promised savings that were to be directed to services for students and cited since 2011, had never been realized. Despite NECHE’s standards on financial stability and the financial investment required in services for students, instructional technology and campus environment, program development and evaluation, Mr. Ojakian evidently continues to view NECHE standards as optional, “a roadmap” that might be useful, but certainly not necessary. He fails to understand the importance of academic standards that protect students and their families and verify the quality and integrity of academic institutions upon which they rely for access to academic excellence and opportunities.
The answer to the test above is D – All of the above.
Students First needs to abide by accreditation standards now and in 2023.
Standards are not an optional roadmap where all roads lead to Hartford.
Students First cannot achieve savings at a cost to students without loss of opportunities.
PS. Gov. Ned Lamont, If you didn’t have community colleges, you’d invent them to support the state’s economy and workforce, and you’d ensure they were accredited institutions.
Mary Anne Cox, Assistant Chancellor, retired, for The Community College Round Table. Partial member list: Dr. Cathryn Addy, Dr. Jonathan Daube, Dr. Booker DeVaughn, President Dianne Williams, Dr. Grace Jones, Chancellor Emeritus Andrew C. McKirdy, Florence Sheils, former member Board of Trustees.