February 14, 2018

A demand for lots more detail on community college consolidation

Officials of the state's 12 community colleges must answer a long list of questions from the schools' accrediting body before their plan to shed hundreds of administrative positions can move forward.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges – whose accreditation certifies that a school meets certain educational standards and allows students to qualify for federal grants – wants more supporting data to show the savings goals in the plan can be achieved without harming education.

"We cannot tell in any useful detail what is being removed from each institution in the way of positions, services, contracts, or other expenses," NEASC President Barbara Brittingham wrote the state system's provost Jan. 28.

Brittingham was responding to a "draft" plan, submitted to NEASC Jan. 18, that aims to save $28 million at the state's fiscally troubled community colleges.

"With a proposal to remove $28 million from the collective budgets, the commission will need to know, among other things, that students will be at least as well served as now and that there are appropriate resources available to support the programs and services being offered. Please include more evidence about the claims made," Brittingham wrote in a seven-page letter obtained by CT Mirror.

The Board of Regents for Higher Education has denied The Mirror's request for a copy of the plan submitted to NEASC, saying it was a draft submitted for feedback and not ready for public release.

Spokeswoman Maribel La Luz said the college system would release the final plan after submitting it to NEASC by the March 16 deadline. The accrediting board is expected to either reject or approve the plan one month later.

News that there is a lengthy draft for the so-called "Students First" initiative came as a surprise to faculty leaders, who have been yearning for more details.

"This was a surprise that it is that far put together and that no faculty were made aware of it," said Stephen Adair, a professor at Central Connecticut State University. Many community college students transfer to Central and the three other regional state universities, which together with the community colleges make up the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system. Adair also is vice chair of a faculty panel that advises the Board of Regents, the system's governing body.

"The advisory committee and faculty in general are really concerned about the lack of involvement of faculty," Adair said. "I think faculty would have a lot to contribute to crafting the standards."

La Luz said the schools welcomed feedback from the accreditors.

"NEASC offered to review CSCU's preliminary draft before submission in March, and we of course jumped at the opportunity to get important feedback from our accreditors. As you can see, they offered advice on the level of detail needed for their consideration," La Luz said in a statement.

'NEASC is asking all the right questions; we are grateful they took the time to share," she said.

But Adair is troubled a Consolidation Committee of faculty and administrators college officials set up to hear from faculty and staff is being left in the dark.

"It's hard to be on a consolidation committee when they don't even know what is in the report," he said.

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