Forum Community colleges want to be part of change
Community college faculty and staff have valid reasons for their growing opposition to the Board of Regents’ “Students First” consolidation plan. The community colleges’ origins were from grassroots efforts to provide students in their towns with affordable, accessible higher education, which would improve their job outlook. Contrary to what people suggest, we are not afraid of change. As educators, “change” is what we do. We create change for our students and our local economies.
The communities were not opposed to change in the late 1960s when the state took over the management and accreditation of the separate colleges, merging them into a 12-college system. This change was done in collaboration with the communities, and kept “Students First.”
In the 1990s, the state merged the 12 community and five technical colleges. The reduction of college presidents, deans and boards of trustees kept needed resources on our campuses and enhanced the services our students received. The state joined with faculty and staff to keep “Students First.”
In 2017, faculty and staff were alarmed by the BOR’s proposed consolidation of state universities and community colleges. From the beginning, faculty and staff were marginalized during the planning and implementation process. The BOR’s meetings with faculty committees were disingenuous forums that did not solicit or accept ideas for the consolidation.
The architects of the merger claimed it would provide cost savings. However, the potential savings were to come from centralizing essential student services — information technology, course registration, financial aid. The fact is, moving these services off local campuses does not put “Students First,” it creates obstacles for students, many of whom are already juggling family and work obligations.
The first attempt to merge all 12 community colleges into one was rejected by a higher education accreditation body. This new attempt to form three regional colleges is creating costly layers of bureaucracy with campus presidents kept on the payroll (retitled as CEOs) and the addition of three regional presidents and their support staff. It is puzzling that we are reducing necessary student services while building unnecessary levels of management.
This regional plan is nothing new. In the 1980s, the Board of Trustees joined Asnuntuck, Greater Hartford and Tunxis Community Colleges under one president. This venture ended in two short years due to the ballooning cost caused by the bureaucratic needs of a roving president with multiple offices and staff.
The final point is that we do not wish to vilify President Mark Ojakian or the Board of Regents. We support the need to keep community colleges affordable and accessible. We simply ask to be a part of the planning and implementation process. Faculty and staff are all about change. It is what we do. Let us work together to create a change for the better that truly puts “Students First.”
Maureen M. Chalmers is vice president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges.