Board overwhelmingly approves community college consolidation plan

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The state budget crisis is forcing big changes to the 12-campus Connecticut community college system.

The system’s Board of Regents voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to consolidate the 12 schools into one college administered from Hartford. It’s a move that no one likes, but the president of the system says every other system of state government is facing this.

The 12 community colleges across the state are facing $51 million in budget cuts due to the current state budget. The administration says the 53,000 students enrolled in these schools will face the least impact under the consolidation plan.

It merges all 12 into one college with three regional administrators. The change will require the loss of about 200 administrative jobs, saving the state $28 million per year. The plan does not eliminate any members of the faculty.

Related: Board of Regents to address proposal to merge 12 community colleges

System President Mark Ojakian told the Board of Regents and students, faculty and staff on Thursday, “There’s no more meat on the bone.”  He added that the alternative would be a 30 percent tuition hike because the state is sinking further into debt. “We are staring at an additional $8 billion deficit by the year 2021,” he explained.

While most of the campuses are in the middle of exams, only a few students and faculty were able to speak on Thursday. However, they all felt the consolidation would harm students even though Ojakian says they won’t be affected.

“This plan takes away the community part out of the community college,” said student Bobby Berriou. Student Heather Vogt asked the board, “If made into one college, how can it be guaranteed that the community would be so willing to help the students with whatever they need to succeed?”

Related: Connecticut community colleges to be consolidated under plan

Faculty representative John Shafer added, “Community colleges, by their identity and nature, need to be directly accountable and responsive to the citizens, businesses, institutions, and students in the local areas they serve.”

After the vote of approval, Ojakian told News 8, “We can either continue down the road towards closing campuses, which we would be on if we didn’t make any of these changes, and then you pick winners and losers.”

Others on Thursday questioned whether this consolidation might endanger accreditation, but Ojakian says it will not move forward unless the college accreditation agency in Boston approves it.

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