The Day – Community college administrators defend consolidation
Just two days after state lawmakers considered a bill that could impede the consolidation of community colleges, administrators of the Connecticut state college and university system told those same lawmakers why the lawsuit consolidation was the right decision.
Terrence Cheng, the president of CSCU, told the higher education committee on Thursday that with the system’s accrediting body approving his “substantial change” proposal, “we need to open the doors of the Connecticut State Community College in July 2023”.
The consolidation process is designed to consolidate the state’s 12 community colleges under a centralized administration, called Connecticut State Community College, through CSCU’s Board of Regents and its accrediting body, the Commission on higher education in New England. But on Tuesday lawmakers considered a bill that would require legislative approval to close or merge schools in the system.
Thursday’s Q&A with Cheng and other administrators took on a different tone. Most lawmakers reported that they had gone along with CSCU’s view that consolidation is inevitable and that instead of trying to put it on hold, disparate stakeholders should try to come together and make it happen. more fluid.
State Rep. Greg Haddad, D-Mansfield, who has called himself a “merger skeptic” in the past, said while he’s not sure the merger is the only way to get streamlined services and a better advisor-to-student ratio,” nevertheless, this is how we are going to achieve it.
Objectives of the merger
Cheng and other administrators said the consolidation will help align curricula across the 12 campuses and allow enrolled students to take classes at any campus, among other benefits. But financial stability, or lack thereof for CSCU, dominated Thursday’s conversation.
Michael Rooke, acting president of Connecticut State Community College and president of Northwestern Connecticut Community College, said during his part of the presentation that two of the 12 schools in the system “currently have negative financial reserves,” and part of the consolidation will consist of “restructuring the staff to take into account the drop in registrations.”
CSCU officials were unclear about what happens to staff in such a restructuring, but staffers said they fear layoffs.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme and other lawmakers said they feared the merger could lead to job loss or school closures. Administrators said both scenarios were not in the plans and, particularly regarding school closures, would be a last resort.
Acting CFO Kerry Kelley described “historic declines in enrollment” — 34% since 2014. She said 84% of spending is on staff and the system is duplicating services across its 12 campuses. She said the consolidation aims to reduce non-student costs, eliminate duplication of services, align “staff with organizational needs” and increase shared services. This will save money, although no specific savings figure has been discussed, and, according to administrators, increase registrations. Kelley shared CSCU’s projections for increased enrollment between 2023 and 2028.
Several lawmakers have called for more detailed projections and a better understanding of the methodology behind them.
Administrators also addressed the students’ and staff’s denial of the consolidation during Thursday’s proceedings. Faculty have repeatedly expressed fear of a loss of local control and with it special programs specific to each campus. Rooke said consolidation wouldn’t do that, but rather open up those programs to more students.
“We want to emphasize that each of our colleges currently have unique programs that exist, for example the Three Rivers nuclear program,” Rooke said. “These unique programs will continue to exist, but one of the benefits of having one institution is that students from across the state will be able to access these courses.”
Higher Education Committee Co-Chair Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, addressed the many opponents of consolidation and asked how CSCU can make them believe.
“We know a lot of people who have real concerns. Assuming this goes ahead, what is the strategy? Because I think you’re going to have challenges,” Slap said.
“We have tried informally and initially in public and private meetings to address as many of these concerns with as many people as possible, that says we haven’t always done a great job. I think if we went back and did it from the beginning, there would definitely be times when we would communicate better, more effectively and be more inclusive in the process,” Cheng said.
But, he later added, “It is sometimes disappointing to know that there are areas of these constituencies with which we have had engagements…and yet we continue to hear the same complaints as if our conversations and our efforts in the past had never happened.”