The plan to consolidate the 12 community colleges in Connecticut into one college with 12 campuses is called “Students First,” which is ironic because it does not fund students first.  It funds a new administration in a new, statewide bureaucracy.

The Board of Regents (BOR) and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system office presented the “Students First” plan in April 2017 with an aim to reduce administration and save $46 million annually.

Three and a half years later, the plan has added dozens of new administrators, cost tens of millions of dollars, and there is more spending to come.

The BOR may still contend they are saving money, but to make that claim they have to keep moving the goal posts.  Table 1 compares the BOR’s forecasts of expenditures with the consolidation plan versus “doing nothing” for fiscal year (FY) 2021.

Table 1: Projected total expenditures for community colleges for FY 2021 by date of forecast (all figures in millions of dollars)
Dec. 2017Mar. 2018Apr. 2019June 2019June 2020
With Students First$444.9$502.7$526.7$537.2$544.2
“Doing Nothing”$490.9$516.6$533.2$544.2
SourceBOR Finance Comm. p.17NECHE report, p. 259-260NECHE report, p. 37BOR Finance Comm. p.7BOR Finance Comm. p. 31

The initial budget for FY 2021 made last June was $544.2 million, which is almost a $100 million more than what was initially forecasted with “Students First” and more than $50 million more than the cost of “doing nothing.”  Many factors contributed to the faulty projections, including an assumption that the transition would not cost anything.

The projected expenditures also show as the expense of the consolidation grew, the projected cost of doing nothing kept getting more expensive to create a perception of savings.  Recent BOR budget documents have not included estimates of expenditures without the consolidation.

The absence of a stable benchmark makes it difficult to determine the state’s actual investment in the consolidation.

Accreditation requirements have also contributed to the rising cost of the transition. The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), our regional accreditor, requires the 12 colleges to meet all the standards of accreditation until the one college is complete and accredited. (Regional accreditation is a necessary condition to receive federal financial aid).  The BOR is hiring for the centralized administration, while maintaining the existing 12 colleges.  This is expensive.

Over the last 18 months, CSCU has hired an interim president of the one college at $288,354, three regional presidents at $227,000, and 25 additional administrators, nearly all of whom have salaries well over $100,000.  Despite a hiring freeze for the state universities and the community colleges, the system office anticipates hiring an additional 55 people for the one college by mid-February (The list of positions and salaries is on pp. 115-116).

The community college budget can be put in perspective by comparing it with the state universities.

Table 2: Total Expenditures for CT State Universities and CT Community Colleges

(all dollar amounts are in millions)*

201720182019202020212021 rev.
1.  CT State Universities$678.8668.1717.3716.8753.9750.4
2. Percent change from 2017-1.6%5.7%5.6%11.1%10.5%
3.  CT Community Colleges$456.9461.2482.3488.3544.2516.6
4.  Percent change from 20170.9%5.6%6.9%19.1%13.1%
5. Exp. for CCCs using CSU percent$456.9449.7482.8482.5507.4505.1
6.  Diff. in CCC’s expenditures11.5-0.55.836.811.5

*Notes and sources: The blue column includes the budget numbers set in the June 2020 BOR Finance Committee. These were revised in October. The pandemic contributed to a decrease in enrollment at the Community Colleges that necessitated the revision. The figures for 2017-2020 are taken from “Attachment C,” which is an estimate of the expenditures of the concluding fiscal year. The figures for 2021 are from “Attachment A”, which is the budgeted expenditures for the upcoming year (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, 2021 revised).

Aside from the slight exception in 2019, the percentage increases in expenditures for the community colleges have been greater than the state universities. The bottom line in the table presents, in millions of dollars, the difference between the actual increase in yearly expenditures for the community colleges and what those expenditures would have been if the budget had increased at the CSU rate (line 3 minus line 5).

Excluding the blue column, the cumulative total of the bottom line is $28.3 million, which is a conservative estimate of the cumulative cost of “Students First” to date.  The $28.3 million does not include the necessary adjustments to address the enrollment declines, a steeper reduction in full-time teaching faculty at the community colleges than at the state universities, and the $30.0 million total reduction in unrestricted reserves for the community colleges from 2017 to 2021.

Most of the increases in the community college budget have not been going to the campuses where the students are, but rather are being retained in the system office to fund the new administration.

Table 3: Expenditures for the 12 Community Colleges and for the System Office (figures are in millions of dollars) 

percent change 2017-21

Exp. for 12 Comm. Colleges$436.7435.6453.6452.6502.7460.35.4
Exp. for System Office$30.636.840.247.755.069.8128.1

In Table 2, the listed expenditures include a portion that funds the system office.  In Table 3, only the money distributed to the 12 campuses is included in the first line.  The second line is the sum of separate budget lines that support the system office.  The roughly $39 million increase (128.1%) in the system office from 2017 to 2021 is more than the yearly expenditures for seven of the community colleges.  The cumulative increase in the cost of the system office is over $70 million, which is a high-end estimate of the consolidation cost to date.

If completed on time, the one college will begin admitting students in October 2022 for enrollment in fall 2023.  Until then, the cumulative cost of the transition will continue to grow.  Existing salaries for the one college will need to be paid, and new administrators will be added to the payroll. By 2023, the state’s investment may well exceed a $100 million.

$100 million is a large investment and the state is gambling there will be a return.

The state is gambling the consolidation will be completed on time. The initial timeline indicated that the work of unifying the curriculum for over 400 programs would be completed by the end of 2020, but not a single program has yet been completed. Every year in delay will likely cost an additional $20 to $25 million.

The state is gambling that NECHE will accredit the new structure.  The system’s first application in 2018 was denied.

Most importantly, the state is gambling that a centralized administrative bureaucracy can run the 12 satellite campuses more efficiently and with better outcomes.

One thing is for sure. The educators that work on the campuses think the state made a lousy bet. It is time to put an end to this shell game.

Submitted By

Stephen Adair, Professor of Sociology, Central Conn State University
Lois Aime, Director, Education Technology, President of the Faculty Senate, Norwich Community College
Maureen Chalmers, Instructional Specialist, Northwestern Community College, President 4Cs.
Francis Coan, Professor of History, Tunxis Community College
Lauren Doninger, Professor of Psychology, Gateway Community College
Seth Freeman, Professor of Computer Science, Capital Community College
Nicole Krassas, Professor of Political Science, Eastern Connecticut State University
Lilliam Maisfehlt, Reference and Instructional Librarian, Gateway Community College
Ronald Picard, Professor of English, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Patty O’Neil, Assoc. Professor of Psychology, Western Conn State University, President CSU-AAUP
Colena Sesankar, Asst. Prof of Philosophy, Gateway C. College, Chair Faculty Advisory Comm. to BOR
Cynthia Stretch, Professor of English, Southern Connecticut State University
Patrick Sullivan, Professor of English, Manchester Community College
Stephen Monroe Tomszak, Assoc. Professor of Social Work, Southern Conn State University
Deborah Weiss, Prof. of Communication Disorders, Faculty Senate President Southern Conn State Univ.

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