NCC weighs in on community college consolidation
Updated 5:59 pm, Tuesday, November 7, 2017
NORWALK — Several dozen faculty members, staff and students gathered in the PepsiCo Theater at Norwalk Community College Tuesday, captivated by a live telecast from Hartford.
More than an hour into the discussion about the consolidation of the state’s 12 community colleges, a notification from the telecast’s monitor popped up on the right side of the screen, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
“Norwalk is killing it!”
That little tidbit, which was prompted by the dozens of thoughtful questions sent in by NCC participants during the live telecast, is representative of the identity of Norwalk Community College, said NCC President David Levinson, and part of what he wants to ensure isn’t lost in the consolidation.
“We’re a very engaged college,” Levinson said. “We’re a very robust higher ed institution, people have very strong convictions here. They’re outspoken. This is my 14th year and you’re dealing with a very vociferous, outspoken crowd of people who are very passionate about what they do, and that, to me, is what makes this college so special. The passion and the love people have for the institution. Why I came here 14 years ago was feeling that, and it’s only grown over the years. We’re known to be very verbose ... I wouldn’t want a dull campus.”
The telecast was the first of three Town Hall meetings scheduled to take place before the plan heads to the Board of Regents for consideration in December.
Under the plan, the state’s 12 community colleges would become one accredited institution, creating the fifth-largest community college in the nation — The Community College of Connecticut — with more than 52,000 students. The plan is projected to shave off $28 million in expenses, which System President Mark Ojakian said will be redirected back into student services.
“We are not going to receive additional general fund support from the state,” Ojakian said Tuesday. “We just won’t.”
The system would go from 12 presidents to one vice chancellor, and would shrink 36 college administrative positions into 16, with the elimination of campus financial and academic officers. Each existing community college would be governed by a vice president and would be clustered into three regions headed by a regional president, though the exact structure could change as feedback is taken into consideration, Ojakian said.
Levinson said he is supportive of the “students first” mentality that is driving the plan, though didn’t say outright that he supports the plan as a whole.
“One of the challenges in the plan is how to both maintain the local identity of colleges, of NCC, and at the same time centralizing some of our processes,” Levinson said. “A very important part of NCC is our foundation. Our foundation raises $3 million-plus a year. We are by far the largest foundation amongst the 12 community colleges, we account for way over 50 percent of what gets raised amongst the colleges. I think we want to make sure that whatever happens, we don’t lose our local identity because people are giving monies to Norwalk Community College.”
That fear — that foundation money would be consolidated as well — seemed to be largely quelled by Ojakian on Tuesday as he assured he colleges they would maintain their independent foundations. He also said the colleges would maintain the individual programs they have developed, though accreditation would be consolidated, because those programs have been developed to meet the needs of the communities the colleges already serve.
Ojakian said the plan is far preferable to closing colleges or raising tuition, which he said are the only alternatives in the current state budget climate. The Town Hall Question and Answer session addressed everything from financial aid to enrollment to curriculum, and Ojakian said all of the questions and constructive feedback will be taken into consideration as the plan moves forward.
“This is meant to help students, not only in terms of enrollment, registration and financial aid, but also if a student decides to have their full college career on one campus, to provide them with the best opportunities possible to complete,” Ojakian said. “What that means is devoting more resources to services that are going to meet those students needs into the future, by streamlining certain things that will make it easier for people on the campuses to do the jobs that they do well and want to do better ... this is to provide students with the best opportunities that they deserve to complete their education and move on to a better life.”
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