Four of the state's 12 community colleges campuses: Manchester Community College, top left; Gateway Community College, bottom left; Quinebaug Valley Community College, top right; and Tunxis Community College.

The ill-conceived idea to consolidate the 12 community colleges in Connecticut into one massive college has been going on for approximately five years.  Along the way many have questioned and expressed concerns about how this could possibly benefit our students and our communities.

There are now some legislators who are beginning to ask these same questions as they realize closing a college in the area they represent, to be replaced by a branch campus of a college that is not in their area, may not benefit the constituents in the communities they serve.

A bill requiring legislative approval before the Board of Regents (BOR) either merged or closed any of the community colleges was voted out of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee (HB5300) on March 17.

Similar bills have received a positive vote from this committee in previous sessions only to die before reaching the floor of the full legislature. This time it looked like the bill might make it to the full legislature, until, that is, the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) stepped in and decided to add a “Fiscal Note” to the bill stating, bizarrely, that if this merger were stopped it would cost the state millions of dollars “…which may begin in FY22 because the board consequently must re-hire numerous campus-level leadership positions for accreditation maintenance of the 12 community colleges.”

This statement is simply not true. The 12 community colleges are currently accredited. In fact, for students to seamlessly continue to receive financial aid the 12 colleges will need to remain accredited until the consolidated college becomes accredited. Therefore, the positions that need to be retained for accreditation have not been eliminated, they are there, and they are filled, right now.

What is not stated is that the regional administrative structure above all the administrators at the 12 colleges that was created as part of the consolidation process, is an added fiscal burden, and currently costs the system millions of dollars while doing little to nothing to support and improve the student experience at any of the colleges right now.

The OFA bills itself as a “…non-partisan fiscal research and analysis office for the Connecticut General Assembly.” It further states that it was created to provide fiscal information that would be “…unbiased and independent.” It seems that is not exactly how this office works.

The OFA Fiscal Note goes on to state that, “It is anticipated that these costs will exceed, by millions of dollars, the savings from simultaneous layoffs and title downgrading of regional and consolidated-college personnel. In FY23, it is estimated that the net savings due to the consolidation will be $10.9 million…”

The OFA does not appear to dig too deeply or ask too many questions when data is presented to it. Whether fact, opinion, or just plain lie, it seems to be accepted as fact and published as so.

In reality, 1) the current contract, as negotiated by the Board of Regents and the community college unions, has a no-layoff clause in it, and 2) if a title is downgraded the person currently in that position is “red-circled” and remains at the same grade and pay until that person leaves. Therefore, there is no immediate savings from downgrading a position. It may take years to see that “savings” depending on how long the current employee stays in the downgraded position.

Additionally, the OFA Fiscal Note claims that the consolidation of the community colleges has already produced a net savings, and reports that it anticipates the net savings in fiscal year 2023 will be $10.9 million.

No figures are provided to support this claim. Over the last several years the system office has been building a new administrative structure while maintaining 12 independently accredited colleges.  While attrition at the colleges has diminished staff, the system office spending for consolidated services has increased by several tens of millions of dollars annually.

A comparison of total expenditures for the state universities (CSU) and the community colleges (CCC) by the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students between FY 2018 and FY 2021 would appear to belie the claim that the consolidation has saved money to date.

CT State Universities (CSUs)CT Community Colleges (CCCs)
FY2018 (June 2018 BOR Finance Committee report)

 $668,141,871 = total expenditure

23,261 = Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

$668,141,871/23,261 = $28,724 per FTE Student

FY2018 ( June 2018 BOR Finance Committee report)

 $461,226,043 = total expenditure

26,840 = Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

$461,226,043/26,840 = $17,184 per FTE Student

FY2021 (See June 2021 Finance Committee Report)

 $712,200,253 = total expenditure

20,736 = Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

$712,200,253/20,736 = $34,346 per FTE Student=19.6% increase over 2018

FY2021 (See June 2021 Finance Committee Report)

$487,115,428 = total expenditure

20,817 = Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

$487,115,428/20,817 = $23,400 per FTE Student= 36.2% increase over 2018

If total expenditures for the CCCs increased at the same rate per FTE as the CSUs from 2018 to 2021, the total expenditures would have been $427,832,316 or roughly $60 million less than was spent.

Through the pandemic, one might expect that the CSUs would face the greater fiscal challenge because they had to carry the expense of empty residence halls.  Yet overall, we see the enrollment decline at the CCCs was roughly double that of the CSUs yet their spending per student increased at roughly twice the rate.

The above are a few examples of the inaccurate statements in the OFA Fiscal Note for HB5300. In this era of misinformation, disinformation, opinions portrayed as facts, facts distorted and turned upside down to fit the needs of the person or organization spewing them, it is discouraging to see a government agency that is supposed to be non-partisan and unbiased endorse the bias that is so apparent in this document.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late U.S. senator from New York said, “You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Stephen Adair is a Professor of Sociology at Central Connecticut State University. Lois Aimé is Director of Educational Technology at Norwalk Community College.