Seth Freeman and a number of his colleagues spoke at a press conference Tuesday against community college budget cuts. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Staff members at Connecticut State Community College are starting to see the impact of awaited budget cuts.

Employees have for months urged school and state leadership to reinvest into the system’s 12 campuses even as COVID-19 funds run out next year and the state spending plan approved in June won’t make up the difference.

Union leadership said Tuesday that 57%, or over 400, non-permanent positions will be cut throughout the community college system by the end of the year.

Some college campuses plan to entirely eliminate cafeteria services and office administrator support. Capital, located in downtown Hartford, also plans to limit its library, tutoring, disability, ESL services for students by the start of the fall semester on Sept. 1. 

Other locations like Manchester and Naugatuck Valley are experiencing similar cuts, said Seth Freeman, the president of the 4Cs, the union representing workers at the state’s community colleges.

“Connecticut State Community College is opening its doors this fall and Connecticut State Community College is already failing our students and failing our state,” Freeman said. “Every cut hurts our students. Every cut will hurt our enrollment. … Every cut will hurt our retention. … Every cut, specifically eliminating the Office of Career Services [at Capital] will hurt our students’ ability to get a job when they finish. We understand each and every cut as an attack on poor, working-class, predominantly Black and brown students.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican legislators pushed for state colleges and universities to curtail spending, arguing these institutions should have prepared better to live without emergency aid from COVID-19 funds. They had noted that enrollment has been shrinking, particularly at the community colleges and regional state universities.

A report from the Office of Higher Education showed that in 2011-12 over 57,600 students were enrolled in the state’s community colleges. That number had decreased to about 38,800 students in 2020-21.

The new state budget provides state universities and community colleges with about $630 million in the fiscal year that started in July and ends June 30, 2024. However, in 2024-25, the regional universities and community colleges are expected to get by with about $115 million less.

“All of the public colleges and universities are facing tight budgets this year. Closing our funding gap is no easy task,” said AnnMarie Harrison, a spokesperson for CT State Community College, in a written statement. “CT State is not eliminating services like tutoring, library, disability services, or other things that make for a positive college experience. At all times, the priority is the student. We are making strategic operational adjustments.”

Library at CT Community College’s Capital campus. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

At a news conference Tuesday at Capital, Freeman said campus managers were asked to make $33 million in cuts this academic year. 

“Connecticut State Community College has $99 million in reserves. The [Connecticut State College and Universities] system has another $25 million. We’ve made this demand back at Manchester over a month ago, and the response we got from our system managers is they’re unwilling to [use that money],” Freeman said, adding that officials inside the college system haven’t provided an explanation as to why they won’t tap into those savings.

Harrison didn’t immediately respond for comment regarding Freeman’s sentiments.

Freeman also called on Lamont and lawmakers to “give our system managers the courage, and maybe the insight, that we will be better funded.”

“I would imagine our system doesn’t want to deplete our reserves if they don’t get some reassurance from the legislature and Governor Lamont that we will get more funding down the line,” Freeman said.

The governor’s office issued a statement Tuesday that said Lamont is “committed to ensuring the Connecticut’s state colleges and universities meet the needs of students.”

“The administration will continue to work with the system’s leadership and members of the General Assembly to ensure the efficient allocation and prioritization of resources — reflective of enrollment — and a sustainable financial future for the system,” said Adam Joseph, communications director for Lamont’s office.

An empty cafeteria space at CT Community College’s Capital campus. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

The 4Cs also shared a status report that showed the loss of 177 educational assistants, whose contracts are expected to expire by the end of the month. Capital is expected to lose 51 of those employees, the most out of all the community college campuses with Gateway trailing behind with 39 expiring contracts by Aug. 31, Middlesex with 23 and Naugatuck Valley with 11.

An additional 256 contracts will expire by the end of December.

“The data that we got from the system show that Capital, Naugatuck Valley and Gateway had the most part-time staff in these [educational assistant] positions,” Freeman said. “The campuses that have the highest number of those are the most susceptible to receive cuts compared to permanent full-time staff that require the layoff notices.”

Some of those part-time positions include library staff.

“There’s four part-timers that we’re losing and we’re losing a full-time educational assistant. … So that’s the equivalent of two full-time librarians and one part-time library assistant. … We no longer will have the staffing to be open nights or weekends,” said Dan Lewis, interim director of library services at Capital. 

Lewis added that similar cuts have been made at the Housatonic and Manchester campuses.

Students at the Capital campus will also lose its on-campus cafeteria services. According to a spokesperson from the 4Cs, Capital joined the Quinebaug Valley and Middlesex campuses which also no longer have a cafeteria.

“I remember when I had a biology lecture early in the morning and my lab class followed right after, I had about a 30 minute break. In the event I forgot my lunch, how inconvenient would it be for me to leave campus, grab lunch, get back, consume my lunch and get to class fully prepared?” said Jasmine Lall, a general studies student at the school, who also serves as the president of the Student Government Association. “Taking away the cafeteria would not only be inconvenient for hardworking students, but also take away a sense of community that is built here. It’s where we connect with friends to take a break and feel a sense of belonging. … Cafeteria services are not just about food, it also means losing an important part of your college experience.”

At Capital, the college’s director of career services is also being eliminated, a position that helped students with job placement, Freeman said. Similar services and tools like tutoring and help for English-language learners are facing reductions.

“We are downgrading education. We are not thinking about the future. We need specialized workers — we have a shortage — and that’s the reality in Connecticut,” said Jose Arce, who’s been a tutor at the college’s academic center for 13 years. “It breaks my heart. I’m very emotional. I could cry.”

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.