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State college consolidation would cut jobs, save $28M

By KATHLEEN MEGAN

Hartford Courant

The consolidation of the state’s community colleges would cut nearly 190 jobs over the next five years, saving about $28 million, according to a financial plan released by the Connecticut State Colleges and University system.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with state support and we also don’t know what we are going to have to do in terms of tuition over time,” said Mark Ojakian, president of CSCU. “But my hope by implementing this consolidated approach is to not only be able to have a community college system that is sustainable in the long term but that focuses its spending on student services.”

Ojakian said the plan to merge the state’s 12 community colleges into a single Community College of Connecticut would not cut faculty positions or any other positions such as student advisers or counselors that deal directly with students. Instead the cuts would come in areas that do not affect students directly such as administrative services, finance, human resources and information technology.

The plan is part of two-tiered strategy called Students First, designed to address the system’s structural financial problems created in part by the state’s poor financial outlook and cutbacks in funding to higher education.

Consolidating the colleges is one portion of the plan, while the other is consolidating administrative services across all 17 CSCU institutions for a savings of $13.3 million.

The financial analysis re-leased this week concerns only the consolidation plan of the colleges. It will be presented to the Board of Regents for Higher Education’s finance committee today and, if endorsed, to the entire Board of Regents on Dec. 14.

Erika Steiner, the system’s chief financial officer, said, without taking these steps, tuition would double over the next five years and the system would spend all its reserves over the next five years, running a deficit every year that would reach $62 million in 2022.

Even with the cost-saving plan in place, the system projects a deficit of $13.2 million in 2019. The following two years, the budget is back in the black, but then returns to the red in 2022 with a deficit of $13 million.’

Risk factors are also in play. Steiner explained the plan assumes state funding will remain flat after 2019 and enrollment, which has generally been on the decline, will be flat. She said the state is adopting policies to strengthen enrollment and retention efforts.

Faculty leaders who have been critical of the plan said the new financial analysis does not alleviate concerns.

Lois Aime, president of the Norwalk Community College Senate and chairwoman of the Community College Governance Assembly, said the numbers don’t make sense because it appears, while cutting positions, others are being added to fulfill the same duties.

She said community college senates at Norwalk, Capital, Gateway, Three Rivers, Tunxis and Housatonic are opposed to the plan because it would do away with the individual accreditation of each institution, replacing it with one college that is accredited. Each campus now in existence would be retained, however, as a branch of the college.

“How do you make it Students First when you are creating one huge community college where decision-making is taken away from the people who deal with those students locally on a day to day basis?” she asked.

Seth Freeman, president of the Capital Community College Senate, which has also opposed the consolidation said the numbers in the financial report “raise more questions than they answer.”

“We do concede that there can be some management consolidation that would maybe be beneficial,” Freeman said. “However the key is accreditation.”

Taking away accreditation, he said will leave the college with “much less autonomy, much less control over the services that we provide.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

 

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