Some time ago the Connecticut Mirror kindly published my views on the controversy surrounding consolidation of 12 independent community colleges into a single entity.
At the time, the relative positions were quite polarized. I predicted that those opposing consolidation (mostly faculty) would lose the battle but those favoring it (mostly administrators) would lose the war. Lose-lose if you will.
It is now time to review what happened and where we are likely headed next. In short, those opposing the changes lost the battle and those favoring it are losing the war. Lose-lose.
Connecticut now has a consolidated statewide community college in the form of CSCC — Connecticut State Community College. As predicted it is a huge, hierarchical, bureaucracy that daily fosters confusion. It has more players than the extras in a Cecil B. DeMille movie. Yet few seem capable of thinking outside of their cubicle or making reasoned — indeed any — decisions. Any deviation from accepted dogma is met with disdain and retaliation. I anticipated something akin to Monty Python. I have been richly rewarded.
Still, pursuit of a business-based model continues regardless of how ill-conceived the notion. Education is not business. Education was never meant to turn a profit, and where it has been tried has resulted in scams, useless content and cheated students left with heavy debt.
My take is that the allure of the business model was in the hopes of addressing constant and growing deficits. This was a key failure of the early opponents. No one could offer up an alternative that made the system more fiscally responsible. On the other hand, the proponents offered the visions of disappearing deficits, record enrollment and unparalleled efficiency. Cue the trumpets. Enter the unicorns. Send in the clowns.
Of course, the promises did not and will not come true. So now we are left with a bloated, unresponsive centralized system, an ever-expanding headquarters, continuing deficits and declining enrollments with decimated campuses competing for ever-shrinking educational resources. “Hunger Games” anyone?
So, what’s next? Next comes the internal war followed by the state teardown. My expectations are drawn from years of experience seeing similar scenarios play out in the private sector corporate world. There is, however, one distinct difference which I will address later.
The immediate future is one of a war between the “Old Guard” versus the “New Guard.” The creation of the Emerald City…er… centralized headquarters required massive amounts of hiring (and funding) which continue to this day. Careerist administrators were hired and introduced as “new blood” (the “New Guard”). Those already existing inside the system who first began consolidation became the “Old Guard.”
The New Guard now seeks to remove the Old Guard and replace them with New Guard cronies with the single-minded aim of advancing their own careers. The New Guard will prevail only to blame any failure on the Old Guard. This purchases the New Guard sufficient time to inflate their records and move on.
The following chapter will involve a complete teardown of the system by the state. A corporation is at the whim of market forces and investor confidence. Unlike a corporation, CSCC answers to state government. And state government is starting to realize the none of the promises for consolidation are coming true. It even appears they are getting worse. Increasing deficits. Dropping enrollments. Campus-level budget cuts and lay-offs. The list goes on as the litany of excuses increases.
Politicians are loathe to admit error and will need to find another way to deal with the problem. Enter the “consultants.” The state is currently looking to hire consultants to review consolidation. So, what is likely to result? Again, based on my business experience, I expect little good. Consultants love to use jargon such as “synergies,” “right-sizing” and “core competencies.” In terms of real-world consequences this usually means closing facilities, laying off employees and burnout for those who survive. Meanwhile, the consultants have collected their fee and are long gone.
I fully expect that within a few years CSCC will shrink from 12 campuses to four to six. Surviving campuses will be in the largest “markets” with ample “customer population.” Underserved suburban and rural areas of the state will be abandoned to online course offerings as a poor substitute for a college experience.
This is totally contrary to the purpose of community colleges. A community college provides access to the college experience for populations not readily served by existing colleges and universities. The whole purpose is outreach, not market share or profit. Public education was never intended to be a self-sustaining, profit-generating enterprise.
Education is intended to responsibly utilize public funding to make for a better citizenry. Yet in the pursuit of profit we are left with with lose (consolidation)… lose (careerists) …and lose (teardown).
Richard Bennett is a Professor Emeritus at Three Rivers Community College.