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Plan Would Consolidate Higher Ed

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(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News)

(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News)

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By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A plan to consolidate the management of four Connecticut state universities and its 12 community colleges has won a spot in the budget deal between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature’s Democratic majority, officials said Monday.

The proposal creates a board of regents to oversee the two-year community colleges, Charter Oak State College and the four-year Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities.

Almost 94,000 students attend the schools.

Malloy and his plan’s supporters say it would save about $4.3 million annually by eliminating duplication among the schools’ governing boards. They say that will let Connecticut spend less on administration and more on education initiatives that directly affect students.

Dozens of students and administrators –particularly those involved with the community colleges– recently testified at the Captiol to oppose the plan, saying they worry the two-year schools might be placed second to the four-year universities.

Several lawmakers have also expressed concerns.

Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, said the budget compromise between Malloy’s office and leaders of the Democratic majority includes establishing the board of regents effective July 1.

That group would take over the work currently done by four separate boards that run the state higher education department, Connecticut State University System, Charter Oak State College and the Connecticut community colleges.

“One of the intentions of the proposal is that more of the dollars spent on higher education will go to delivery of services for the students. We would propose to eliminate some of the unnecessary layers of bureaucracy that exist and move those dollars down toward the students,” Ojakian said.

The University of Connecticut is not part of the proposal. Its Storrs flagship campus, five regional campuses and other school sites in Hartford and Farmington would continue to run under direction of its 21-member Board of Trustees.

The state’s new board of regents would not immediately take over all facets of running the other colleges and universities on July 1, though, even if the General Assembly approves the plan in the budget bill.
Ojakian said Monday that specifics are still being worked out about the transition, including administrative staffing, compensation, collective bargaining and other issues.

Some lawmakers say they have concerns and doubts about the proposal, particularly to ensure that policies and spending do not tilt in favor of the four-year universities to the detriment of the two-year schools.
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`I still continue to have concerns about the proposal, particularly in regard to the mission of the community colleges,” said state Rep. Roberta Willis, a Democrat from Salisbury and co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.

“I’m afraid that among other things that they’ll lose their ability to be responsive to work force needs and the needs of businesses, which is very different from the role that the Connecticut State University System plays,” she said.

Willis said she supports the idea of cutting administrative duplication and making it easier for students to transfer class credits between state colleges and universities, and applauds Malloy for pushing those initiatives.

Those issues were also important to state Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat and Willis’ co-chairwoman of the higher education committee.

Bye, who has supported the consolidation plan since its introduction, said she thinks it is particularly important to have a top administrator reporting to the regents rather than the variety of administrators currently reporting to a variety of boards.

Although aware of the concerns about the community colleges, Bye said she believes they will be worked out.

“I think in many ways, this proposal as it stands protects the colleges to make sure their unique missions are represented in the strategic planning,” she said.

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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