Having worked in the Connecticut community college system since 2002, I have witnessed some stupendously bad decision making at both the campus and state system level. However, the new organizational chart that was publicly shown for the first time recently is perhaps the most notable example.
The draft of the organizational chart is meant to provide a blueprint for the merged Connecticut State Community College, but what it actually shows is a pattern of egregious inflation in the ranks of an already over-stuffed administrative core. Even for the Board of Regents, whose record of leadership has been inconsistent at best, the circulated draft of the new organization for the community colleges is shockingly misguided. It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that the document is laden with page after page of relational charts bloated with six-figure salary back-office positions and multiple layers of “supervision” far removed from the everyday workings of each individual campus.
If anything, the organizational chart represents the reverse of what would be most effective in providing services to students, enhancing their chances of success, and improving the responsiveness of local campuses. The studies of student retention and persistence that have come out over the past few decades all point to the same thing.
Students succeed and persist at higher rates when they are engaged and connected; that can be with a faculty member, a staff advisor, a campus club, a group of peers, or a specific academic program. Fewer people involved in those areas means fewer connections. In my 20+ years of working in community colleges in multiple states, I have never come across a student who has attributed their success to a smoking hot policy memo written by the associate vice president of quality assurance and strategic planning (that is an actual job title from the document).
Sadly, there will be legions of “higher education professionals” who will be lining up to fill each new administrative position. The obsessive fetishization of corporate experience as the panacea for all institutional ills could result in disastrous personnel choices. Some new hires might have no educational experience at all; others might be a decade or more out of their last teaching position or face-to-face interaction with real, live students.
The most alarming candidates will be the used car salesmen of academia: career administrators who climb the college hierarchy ladder bit by bit, finding a new campus and a new title every three to five years after their institutions figure out how little value they add. On paper, they look fantastic with lots of committee work, initiatives with acronyms, and resumes sprinkled with educational jargon. However, as colleagues, those folks are the worst kind of dead wood. Every educational system in the country has too many, and the Connecticut plan as it stands will expand those ranks considerably.
There are a couple of bright spots in the new organizational chart which have been a long time in coming and excellent to see included in the institutional plan. For the first time in the history of the state community college system, there will be administrative resources dedicated to the things that always matter to community college students: transportation, mental health, food insecurity, and childcare. There will be a director level positions for mental health and another for childcare, transportation, housing, and food insecurity. Unsurprisingly, issues with those five areas account for more student attrition than any academic factors or degree navigation issues. I am baffled as to why those positions are listed as director level when boosting their status up the organizational ladder would have tremendous, wide-ranging impacts on student performance and retention. It is yet another example of the disconnect between the people doing the planning in the system office and the people working on local campuses who see students struggling every day.
After the last gubernatorial election, I was cautiously optimistic that there would be some political will to lance the boil that has become the community college consolidation effort, but the discourse after the election shifted away from education very quickly. As we reach the first wave of re-openings in the state following the COVID-19 lockdown, there is an opportunity to configure the community college system to serve the needs of tens of thousands of Connecticut residents who will be looking for new kinds of training and degree programs that will allow them to take different paths into the workforce. The community colleges have historically been the institutions to provide those, but with resources being diverted to filling more suits with talking heads instead of keeping campuses viable, I am certain those needs will not be met as they could be.
Merging the community colleges under one administrative umbrella is not a terrible idea, and it has been done successfully in many states. However, what the institution needs is a flat, lean management structure with more resources devoted to the actual delivery of education.
Instead, what is now being proposed is a turgid, corpulent mess that will only cost Connecticut taxpayers more and more.
Jon Brammer is an instructor at Three Rivers Community College.