Community college consolidation plan raises a ton of questions
Updated 9:11 pm, Wednesday, November 8, 2017
A plan to consolidate the state’s 12 community colleges into one generated plenty of questions during two online forums held Tuesday and Wednesday.
Will the food be better?
Will professors be forced to teach on multiple campuses?
Is the idea to really make the system work better for students or just save money?
System President Mark Ojakian tried as best he could to field them as they were read off, using Northwestern Community College President Michael Rooke — who helped draft the “Students First” plan — as a back up catcher.
“That is an awesome question,”Ojakian said, responding to a question from a student from Three Rivers Community College in Norwich about food quality. “I don’t think the food quality has changed much since I went to college during the Civil War.”
Ojakian added that bulk purchasing power could include more direct conversations with vendors about providing healthier menu choices.
The forums were hosted at Capitol Community College in Hartford and live-streamed over Facebook to all campuses.
During the faculty Q&A, Ojakian pledged staff wouldn’t have to shuttle between two campuses unless they agreed to and yes, the plan was about saving money and making the system work better for students.
“It’s a combination of both,” Ojakian said. “It’s about saving money and putting the system on a more sustainable path.”
Some 60 percent of the system budget comes from the state. Support has been declining in recent years and is not expected to increase.
The hope is to preserve and expand student services that allow more of them to complete their education, Ojakian said.
In the works since last spring, the Students First plan would keep all 12 community college campuses open but make them a single accredited institution. Administrative staffs would shrink and be shared and curriculum between the campuses would be made comparable.
The plan is set to go to the state Board of Regents for Higher Education for a vote in December. Staff and students of the campuses have until Nov. 20 to submit comments and questions on the idea.
Already, hundreds of comments have been submitted, said Maribel La Luz, a system spokeswoman.
At the faculty forums, staff expressed concern about job security.
Ojakian said — per the new state bargaining agreement — job protection is in place for four years. There are 11,000 employees in the system. Only 300 are not protected by a union. Eight of them in the system office were cut, Ojakian said.
A student from Norwalk Community College wondered what benefit he and his peers would see beside the ability to take classes at multiple campuses — something only a fraction of them do now.
A streamlined system — only having to enroll once, take one placement exam and apply for financial aid once — may increase that number, participants were told.
“We do believe students would take more courses between campuses if they had the ability to do so,” Rooke said.
Another Norwalk student asked if all the system really needed was a better transfer policy rather than consolidation.
Ojakian said the system needed more than a seamless transfer system.
“What about transportation?” another student asked.
Ojakian said if there was enough demand, shuttle services between some campuses could be explored.
One student asked whether a degree from “Connecticut Community College” would be recognized by other institutions.
”It would be recognized wherever you go,” Ojakian pledged.
The change would be the first such merger of state community colleges in New England and take about two years to complete. It requires approval from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accreditation body.