The Board of Regents for Higher Education

NEW HAVEN — Enrollment declines at the state’s community colleges and regional universities were greater than expected this fall according to the figures discussed Thursday by the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

“Was it a big disappointment? I think we anticipated a decline, but this was more than we anticipated,” Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities said after Thursday’s board meeting held at Southern Connecticut State University. “This is in line with national trends … The number of high school students year by year continues to decline.”

While the expected decline this year for community colleges was 2.5  to 3  percent, the actual decline of full-time students was 4.7 percent or 1,289 students enrolled full time.

For state universities, the expected decline was 2 to 2.5 percent, while the actual decline in full-time students was 3 percent or 819 students.

Ojakian said, “I think we need to do better in terms of reaching a non-traditional market, especially around adult learners. And that’s one of the efforts we’re going to be undertaking this coming year, working with the vice president for enrollment.”

Alison Buckley was hired as vice president of enrollment management for the 12 community colleges earlier this year.

“This is in line with national trends … The number of high school students year by year continues to decline.” — Mark Ojakian, CSCU president.

Ben Barnes, the CSCU’s chief financial officer, said the decline this fall could mean a revenue loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but noted that this is a comparatively small amount of money. The system has revenues of $1.28 billion.

“This is not good,” Barnes said, “but I think the risk to revenues is relatively small … and this could be made up by other revenue.”

He said it may be that spring or summer enrollment will make up for the decline in the fall.

“I don’t think there is any reason to take action now,” Barnes said. “This is an area of weakness, but there are other areas of strength. I think campuses have been doing a good job of managing their costs.”

Barnes said he is hopeful that the situation will “shake out” and that the CSCU system will still be on track with the Board of Regents’ plan to limit the use of reserve funding to $8 million this year.

He did say, however, that fall is usually the semester with the greatest enrollment, but he added that isn’t always necessarily so.

Five of the 12 community colleges had declines in full time enrollment of more than 5 percent, including Manchester Community College with a decline of 8.6 percent or 300 fewer students and Three Rivers Community College with a decline of 7 percent of 161 students.

Tanya Millner, the interim chief executive officer at Manchester Community College, said in a statement that the college is doing “data mining” to better “understand exactly why our numbers are down so significantly.”

“We will enhance our enrollment and retention strategies based on this understanding,” she said.

She said that Manchester, like all community colleges, is facing increasing competition from four-year institutions “that have more resources to offer financial and academic support to the overall declining number of high school graduates in the state.”

“Community colleges lack the visibility among high school counselors to compete with other schools in attracting traditional age college students, so we are also focusing our recruitment efforts on non-traditional age students.”

The only community colleges to see increases were Northwestern Community College, which enrolled 30 more full time students this fall for a 4.2 percent increase; and Quinebaug Valley Community College, which enrolled 17 additional full time students for an increase of 2.2 percent.

The only other CSCU institution with an increase in enrollment was Charter Oak State College, the state’s on-line college, with an increase of 5.3 percent, reflecting 41 additional full time students.

Among the four state universities, enrollment ranged from Central Connecticut State University with the largest percentage  decline — 478 students or 5.1 percent — to Western Connecticut State University where enrollment stayed flat.

A debt-free enrollment boost?

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Richard Balducci, chairman of the regent’s finance committee, reviewed the CSCU’s requested technical adjustments to the budget for the year which included funding for debt-free college — a program that legislators say would strengthen enrollment.

The CSCU system is requesting $16.59 million to fund debt-free college for all community college students, as well as $2 million to market the program for next fall and $1.49 million for additional college advisors for the debt-free program.

Last spring, the legislature approved plans for debt-free college for all community colleges students, calling on the governor to consult with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to determine the feasibility of using revenue from an iLottery as a funding source.

However, as Ojakian has pointed out, the iLottery has yet to be approved by the legislature.

The legislation also requires that the the governor and the legislature allocate alternative resources for the program if the iLottery funds are not available or adequate.

In its request for “expansion items,” the system has also asked for $3.28 million to start up a “guided pathways” program which would provide academic pathways and structure to students’ experiences, along with a $4.96 million increase to hire more advisors and counselors.

Barnes noted that both programs would be expected to strengthen enrollment by retaining students who otherwise might drop out without the guidance.

In response from a request from the Office of Policy and Management to come up with a 1 percent reduction option, Barnes said in an Oct. 2 letter to Melissa McCaw, secretary of OPM, that this would come to $3.2 million for CSCU.

“Such a reduction would be harmful to the progress we are making across the CSCU system,” Barnes wrote, “and we do not recommend that it be implemented.”

Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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11 Comments

  1. Let’s say you were running a business and you were losing customers and revenue. Would your response be to give your product or service away for free to shore up your bottom line? Would you not at least explore why you were losing customers?

    Sometimes I think that this state has a fiscal death wish.

    1. Completely agree – shrinking customer base, increased competition, and increasing fixed costs. What would a private company do? Cut operational costs, cut overhead (Dean of Student’s Hurt Feelings), evolve and differentiate its offerings.

      Or, go out of business.

    2. Hello Meg, Unfortunately, in this state preservation of union member headcount and union dues takes precedent above all else.

  2. Maybe the decline in enrollment is the “New Reality” in the State of Connecticut. The intelligent and prudent thing to do at this time would be to reduce operational costs to mitigate financial impact. However, this is a State run organization. So, we know they will do exactly the opposite.

    1. Ummm, they already have achieved their target reductions though attrition of staff and lack of funding increases. As well as rescissions that have occurred many times.There are many retirees coming in the next two years with no plans to fill almost all of those vacancies. Staff already stretched into two or three major roles already will be further stressed. The fact is Students First has been a disaster.

      The issue is, the BOR became the bureaucracy it was predicted to become. That’s where all the money the system does get is ending up and goes into the ether. Example is IT. They have overspent on Cadillac level enterprise gear because one particular person loves Cisco (Cisco gouges on support and warranties) to consolidate network and system. It all has cost many times more than what was being done already. It’s been a disservice to students, especially since IT control has been sent to a handful of people at the BOR that do not have the manpower, ability or expertise to deal with it.

  3. Mark Ojakian has been at the helm long enough to be accountable. Perhaps if the community colleges were not having the life rung out of them by Students First then there would be staff and faculty on the campuses to do more recruitment and retention.

    1. Exactly. After 4+ years he must be held accountable for declining enrollment, increased central office expenses, alienated faculty, and dramatically increasing tuition and fees. He blames everything and everyone but himself. The whole leadership team needs to be dismantled. Here is a chance for Lamont to demonstrate that he is serious about reforming government.

  4. And yet, the legislature continues to support the fiscal drain on the entire system by allowing the BOR for the system to exist! All those funds going to wasteful administration that only cost more, and saves nothing. The state also continues to build more structures on every campus, when the decline in students was predicted by demographics over 12 years ago! We KNEW we would have fewer students then, and yet… more recreation buildings, dining halls academic buildings and parking garages continue to be funded. Why? We have fewer students now than we did in the 80’s! And staff are not really the issue… unfunded mandates for all manor of support services that created these jobs are the problem. We need to stop trying to blame employees and start looking at the legislature and governing bodies doing an awful job of managing higher education in this state… and UCONN… too big to fail!

    1. Just look at the BOR members in that photo. They look bored out of their minds. If demographics show that there are less high school age children coming of age one would expect total enrollment to decline but Ojakian is going to hire yet another highly paid state bureaucrat to see what can be done. Ojakian must have his high 3 year pension calculation set by now after a long state career. Time for him to call it a day. Interesting to see the Ct Science Museum President is a BOR member. I guess his 220K a year job running that is not enough.

  5. This decline in enrollment is unlikely to save much in expenses. The incremental cost per student above a minimum is small.
    But smaller enrollments bring closer the day when one or more colleges have to close, with students moved to other, still viable schools. That would save money. But the political infighting about choosing what to close will probably be raucous and last for a while, costing more money.

  6. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, WICHE, provides data on projected high school graduates. For Connecticut, there were 35,514 in 2000-01. CT peaked in 2011-12 at 44,495. It is anticipated CT will have 32,965 high school graduates in 2031-32.

    Data is a very powerful tool in decision making, if people decide to use the information productively.

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