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Consolidation in Conn. threatens community colleges

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Tunxis Community College, along with the other community colleges in Connecticut, could be neglected under a new consolidated governance structure. ​​
​Mark Herzog, chancellor of the Connecticut Community College system, is a well-respected advocate for two-year colleges at the state, regional and national levels. His accomplishments include centralizing financial aid systems and bringing the state’s five technical colleges into the community college system. 
 
Now Herzog’s position and the entire chancellor’s office are likely to be eliminated, along with the state’s community college board of trustees, as of Dec. 1.
 
A new state law consolidates the governance structure of the state’s higher education system, and community college leaders are concerned that the needs and missions of community colleges will be given short shrift.
 
New board of regents
 
The legislation establishes a new board of regents to oversee the state’s 12 community colleges, four state universities (Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut universities) and Charter Oak State College. The multi-campus University of Connecticut is not included in the consolidation plan. The new board will take effect July 1.
 
Tunxis Community College President Cathryn Addy is concerned about how community colleges will be able to maintain their identity.
 
“We don’t want to get lost in the shuffle,” she said.
 
“We are very concerned that this legislation could undermine the community college mission to provide access and to focus on the workforce,” added Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of the state community college system.
 
Proponents of the consolidation, which include Gov. Daniel Malloy, say it will save about $4.3 million annually by eliminating duplication. However, opponents say the projected cost savings are speculative. That argument is supported by an analysis by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems which notes that “governance change of the scope proposed rarely leads to short-term cost savings.”
 
The report cites hidden costs involved with realigning internal governance, legal agreements, collective bargaining agreements and other organizational details, along with increased costs stemming from reduced teaching loads and decreased responsiveness to the state’s workforce needs.
 
The report also casts doubt on proponents’ claim that governance consolidation will improve transfers and articulation, citing the lack of evidence from other states. For example, it notes that the Minnesota State College and University System is just now working on a common transfer curriculum, 15 years after the system was established.
 
Legislation approved by Connecticut lawmakers June 1 to implement consolidation offers more details on how the members of the new board of regents will be appointed and calls for an interim CEO to serve as president of the board until the new board decides how will select a CEO.
 
Selective admissions
 
It’s been suggested that Connecticut Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti is the likeliest candidate for the interim CEO position. That is raising more concerns among community college leaders. In recent press reports, Meotti has proposed ending the open-enrollment policy. In a May 24 article in the Connecticut Mirror, he suggested limiting community college admissions to the best-prepared students.
 
According to Herzog, that would deprive students who most need help with developmental studies in math, English or reading the opportunity to succeed or to improve their lives and earning potential.
 
“Since Connecticut has the greatest achievement gap in the nation between white high school graduates and their minority counterparts, reducing access to developmental education will disadvantage large numbers of students and undermine the state’s ability to produce a skilled workforce to meet the needs of business and industry,” he said.  
 
There is still no precise plan for how the transition will take place and how the consolidation will go forward, Cox said. Nor are there specifics on what will happen to the staff in the community college chancellor’s office.
 
The current community college board of trustees sets policies for academic and student affairs and oversees collective bargaining agreements, student enrollment and recordkeeping systems, information technology systems, security issues and college websites, said Addy, who chairs Connecticut Community Colleges’ Council of Presidents.
 
“We don’t have the resources to replace these functions,” Addy said. “We don’t know who is developing these plans. We haven’t been consulted.”
 
“We advocated for a strategic and long-range plan to be put into place first,” before consideration of plans to change the governance structure, Addy said. “ That hasn’t occurred. That seems to many of us as backwards.”  
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