We have a new college in Connecticut, formed by the merger of our state’s 12 community colleges into one college known as Connecticut State Community College. Unfortunately, the precarious and impecunious state of the new Connecticut State Community College does not bear celebration.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the state of things — the new college and CSCU’s senior leadership, Gov. Ned Lamont, the General Assembly, or a combination of the three. Each may be deserving of the criticism levied, but our students should not have to bear the weight of this degradation of our colleges. Campus faculty and staff, who have devoted their working lives to our community college students’ academic success, now find themselves struggling to provide the most basic levels of service to them.
I’ve been a campus library director for over ten years and have seen a lot during that time —more deans and presidents than I can count, a global pandemic, a sustained enrollment decline, the loss of faculty and staff positions, the consolidation of 12 separately accredited colleges into one. The list goes on. During that time, the library lost full and part-time staff lines, resulting in reduced hours and services to students. When consolidation was announced back in 2017, it was sold to the rank and file as a solution to control costs but also with a promise that the savings would be redirected to bolster student-facing services, such as the library, tutoring center, and disability services. Those of us working in these academic support areas might have disagreed with such a drastic solution, but we still held a glimmer of hope that years of disinvestment could be reversed.
Six years hence, we feel like we’ve been sold a bill of goods.
My library is one of the “lucky” ones. We lost just one part-time position this summer, but that loss forced the elimination of Saturday hours. At one point not terribly long ago, almost every Connecticut community college library was open on Saturdays for students who couldn’t make it to the library during the week. Now all but one are closed. What’s more, the campus libraries that lost all their part-time staff have been forced to drastically cut weekday hours, and one of them is unable to remain open past 4 p.m. on some days. If one campus library closes at 4 p.m. while others remain open until 8 p.m., how is this disparity equitable or just?
This means that students are deprived of the safe, welcoming and quiet environment the library provides which they say they value most when asked. Libraries tend to serve a high-need segment of the student population that requires a little extra support. By helping them to develop their information and digital literacy skills, as well as providing collaboration spaces, textbooks, and technology, we increase their odds of success. In a survey conducted last academic year, 94% of students said the library had a positive impact on their student experience. We take immense pride in the work we do to help level the playing field.
The effects of sustained disinvestment in the CSCU system and, specifically, its community college are sadly beginning to show. On my campus, we struggle to work with an outdated and unstable virtual desktop system that runs most of the public student computers on campus. It cannot be replaced because our campus only received one third of the funding for technology replacement it had requested. We also lack the IT staff positions required to adequately support it. Our AV equipment in the library and elsewhere on campus is so old it cannot be repaired and there are no funds available for replacement. Are workarounds the best we can hope to offer our students? They deserve so much more than what we can provide.
Manchester Community College used to be the pride of the community, the flagship of the community college system in Connecticut. Sadly, our campus, despite the efforts of a new and dedicated leadership team, has been hollowed out —by the false austerity of the executive branch, by the General Assembly’s failure to act, by a revolving door of leaders at CSCU— like the famous words of Hemingway, “gradually, then suddenly.”
Debbie Herman is the Director of Library & Educational Technology at CT State Community College, Manchester.