Keeping them honest at the CSCU Board of Regents
A declining number of high school graduates means community colleges must right-size for the future
I was disgusted to read the CT Mirror article on Oct. 24 Enrollment Sags at CSCU Colleges and Universities. My disappointment is not with the CT Mirror. They do a fine job reporting on critical issues. The concern is the inability of the CSCU President, Board of Regents and Chief Financial Officer to fully grasp the financial implications, the consequences with declining enrollment and to initiate steps to right-size the System office and the individual campuses based on student enrollment.
I do not sense there is any urgency coming from the leadership to fully understand that a decline in the number of high school graduates correlates to a decline in CSCU student enrollment and a robust economy correlates to a decline in adults pursuing more education all contributing to a decrease in tuition and fee revenue.
CFO Ben Barnes is quoted “I don’t think there is any reason to take action now.” “This is an area of weakness (enrollment), but there are other areas of strength.” Barnes said he is hopeful the situation will “shake-out.”
CSCU President Mark Ojakian is quoted as saying “Was it a big disappointment? I think we anticipated a decline (enrollment), but this was more than we anticipated.”
I should not be surprised with their comments. After all, both are politicians who lack any understanding of higher education. All the projected high school student graduate rate data for Connecticut indicates a dramatic and maybe catastrophic situation for the community colleges and regional universities. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) produces a quality report, Knocking at the College Door, that provides high school graduation projection rates for every state.
Connecticut has been in a free-fall dating back to 2010-11 with a high mark of 44,495 high school graduates. WICHE projects Connecticut will be in a steady decline of high school graduates through 2031-32. Over the period, this number of high school graduates will decline by 11,500 students.
Projected Connecticut High School graduates. Source: WICHE
|Grand Total||Private Schools||Public Schools||Hispanic||White||Black||American Indian /Alaska Native||Asian/Pacific Islander|
The CSCU system institutions cannot be saved by enrolling high school graduates from other states in the Northeast. Over the next decade, the number of high school graduates from Maine will decline by 1,500 students; Massachusetts high school graduates will decline by 5,800; New Hampshire high school graduates will decline by 2,400; New Jersey high school graduates will decline by 10,200; New York high school graduates will decline by 5,500; Pennsylvania high school graduates will decline by 3,200; Rhode Island high school graduates will decline by 1,500; and Vermont high school graduates will decline by 400.
Likewise, there is not a significant population of untapped adult learners to make up for enrollment declines.
The CSCU System is built on the concept of scale. It requires a significant and growing student-body population to support 1) a sizable group of tenured and non-tenured faculty to instruct the students; 2) an equally large group of staff to support students and administrators; and 3) an abundance of campus and system administrators.
WICHE data is a very powerful tool when used properly in the decision-making process. The data informs us that it is not possible to achieve scale of the past. Competent leadership would recognize this and take appropriate action.
A significant decline in enrollment and subsequent loss of tuition and fee revenue requires the Board of Regents to take unprecedented steps to right-size the system office operations and to re-engineer every campus to the new student enrollments. The Regents cannot dance around the obvious any longer. It is not possible to continue business as usual. It is time to acknowledge the system office and the campuses are over-staffed for the student population.
In all probability right-sizing will include a campus closure or merger; reform or eliminate tenure and replacing with three- and five-year contracts; reducing the overall number of tenured and tenured track faculty; eliminating staff positions; dramatically cutting back the bloated system office administrators; eliminating all duplicative online courses and degree programs; terminating all low enrolled academic programs; reducing the number of elective courses; outsourcing services such as health centers, building maintenance, and recreating centers; and ending subsidies to intercollegiate athletic programs. This may not be enough, but it’s a good start.
All too often people who develop a plan are blinded by reality. The Regents and the system administration have a right to fail with Students First, but they do not have a right to cause other people to fail.
Michael Gargano, Jr. is CEO, The Education Think Tank, and former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academics and Student Affairs at the CSCU System.
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