I was disgusted to read the CT Mirror article on Oct. 24 Enrollment Sags at CSCU Colleges and Universities. My disappointment is not with the CT Mirror. They do a fine job reporting on critical issues. The concern is the inability of the CSCU President, Board of Regents and Chief Financial Officer to fully grasp the financial implications, the consequences with declining enrollment and to initiate steps to right-size the System office and the individual campuses based on student enrollment.

Michael Gargano

I do not sense there is any urgency coming from the leadership to fully understand that a decline in the number of high school graduates correlates to a decline in CSCU student enrollment and a robust economy correlates to a decline in adults pursuing more education all contributing to a decrease in tuition and fee revenue.

CFO Ben Barnes is quoted “I don’t think there is any reason to take action now.” “This is an area of weakness (enrollment), but there are other areas of strength.” Barnes said he is hopeful the situation will “shake-out.”

CSCU President Mark Ojakian is quoted as saying “Was it a big disappointment? I think we anticipated a decline (enrollment), but this was more than we anticipated.”

I should not be surprised with their comments. After all, both are politicians who lack any understanding of higher education. All the projected high school student graduate rate data for Connecticut indicates a dramatic and maybe catastrophic situation for the community colleges and regional universities. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) produces a quality report, Knocking at the College Door, that provides high school graduation projection rates for every state.

Connecticut has been in a free-fall dating back to 2010-11 with a high mark of 44,495 high school graduates. WICHE projects Connecticut will be in a steady decline of high school graduates through 2031-32. Over the period, this number of high school graduates will decline by 11,500 students.

Projected Connecticut High School graduates. Source: WICHE

School
Year
Grand TotalPrivate SchoolsPublic SchoolsHispanicWhiteBlackAmerican Indian /Alaska NativeAsian/Pacific Islander
2011-1244,4955,81438,6815,50726,656 4,770 2151,533
2020-2139,6033,96435,6397,15822,033 4,101 882,079
2021-2238,4973,74134,7567,34721,016 4,072 802,064
2022-2337,9913,50434,4887,77420,434 3,966 742,080
2023-2437,5863,78333,8038,08219,525 3,975 671,989
2024-2537,8803,77734,1038,52319,292 3,928 622,163
2025-2636,7983,62133,1778,34418,544 4,078 662,180
2026-2735,3703,46031,9108,27217,590 3,937 862,070
2027-2834,2463,34830,8977,93016,996 3,734 852,186
2028-2933,8333,33630,4978,07116,544 3,726 712,092
2029-3033,2013,27029,9317,64916,356 3,683 712,142
2030-3132,7963,22329,5727,90015,929 3,614 882,043
2031-3232,9683,23829,7307,82516,101 3,620 892,087

The CSCU system institutions cannot be saved by enrolling high school graduates from other states in the Northeast. Over the next decade, the number of high school graduates from Maine will decline by 1,500 students; Massachusetts high school graduates will decline by 5,800; New Hampshire high school graduates will decline by 2,400; New Jersey high school graduates will decline by 10,200; New York high school graduates will decline by 5,500; Pennsylvania high school graduates will decline by 3,200; Rhode Island high school graduates will decline by 1,500; and Vermont high school graduates will decline by 400.

Likewise, there is not a significant population of untapped adult learners to make up for enrollment declines.

The CSCU System is built on the concept of scale. It requires a significant and growing student-body population to support 1) a sizable group of tenured and non-tenured faculty to instruct the students; 2) an equally large group of staff to support students and administrators; and 3) an abundance of campus and system administrators.

WICHE data is a very powerful tool when used properly in the decision-making process. The data informs us that it is not possible to achieve scale of the past. Competent leadership would recognize this and take appropriate action.

A significant decline in enrollment and subsequent loss of tuition and fee revenue requires the Board of Regents to take unprecedented steps to right-size the system office operations and to re-engineer every campus to the new student enrollments. The Regents cannot dance around the obvious any longer. It is not possible to continue business as usual. It is time to acknowledge the system office and the campuses are over-staffed for the student population.

In all probability right-sizing will include a campus closure or merger; reform or eliminate tenure and replacing with three- and five-year contracts; reducing the overall number of tenured and tenured track faculty; eliminating staff positions; dramatically cutting back the bloated system office administrators; eliminating all duplicative online courses and degree programs; terminating all low enrolled academic programs; reducing the number of elective courses; outsourcing services such as health centers, building maintenance, and recreating centers; and ending subsidies to intercollegiate athletic programs. This may not be enough, but it’s a good start.

All too often people who develop a plan are blinded by reality. The Regents and the system administration have a right to fail with Students First, but they do not have a right to cause other people to fail.

Michael Gargano, Jr. is CEO, The Education Think Tank, and former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academics and Student Affairs at the CSCU System.

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3 Comments

  1. Agreed! The demographic trends should be a leading force in driving the SCSU system strategies. A complete (and brave) refocus is needed- shifting from empty enrollment numbers to the retention and success of our students. It is the right thing to do for our students, faculty, and communities and is also much more cost effective then chasing new enrollments.

  2. The solution is painfully obvious to the private sector, but many politicians and a heavy bureaucracy of special interests who support them are still in denial about future economic growth. They still believe tax increases are the solution and they are wrong and have been wrong for decades.

  3. If our colleges are facing this scenario due to demographics, most towns in CT are likely facing the same problem with their schools as well. If we hadn’t let our unfunded pension liabilities get so massive and our debts so large, we would be in a better position overall to deal with fallout from negative demographic changes.

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