February 19, 2019

CSCU lobbies spending panel ahead of Lamont's budget

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.

One day ahead of the release of Gov. Ned Lamont's inaugural budget, Connecticut's university and community college system aims to sell lawmakers on its economic worth to the state.

Representatives of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, which oversees four universities, a dozen community colleges and an online college, are scheduled to appear before the Appropriation Committee Tuesday at 1 p.m.

CSCU President Mark Ojakian said Tuesday morning that he isn't privy to what his system will be allotted in Lamont's budget on Wednesday, but he's seeking to influence the legislature's key spending committee as early as possible.

His hope is to blunt the need for tuition increases -- such as last year's 4 percent hike at the regional state universities and 2.5 percent hike at community colleges -- or bigger moves, like closing or merging campuses.

In 2015, CSCU proposed but later abandoned a plan to close Middlesex Community College's Meriden campus.

Last year, after a CSCU reorganization plan was rejected by the system's accreditation body, Ojakian said he wasconsidering closing a campus, but quickly walked back those comments.

Ojakian stressed Tuesday that he's not proposing any campus closures.

"I'm not suggesting we will consider closing campuses," he said. "It's important I say that everywhere I go."

He noted that former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's renegotiation of the state's SEBAC union coalition contract means that closing a campus wouldn't have much immediate impact anyway, since it protects member employees through 2021.

CSCU hired a firm called Emsi to produce an economic impact analysis for the system, which it released in December, detailing an $11 billion impact.

CSCU will rely on Emsi researchers in its testimony on Tuesday afternoon, seeking to highlight the report's finding that, for every dollar spent, students gain $6.60 in lifetime earnings and taxpayers gain $3.80 in added tax revenue and savings.

"We're asking the state to view us as an investment in the future, and not just an expenditure and a line item," Ojakian said.

The amount of money the legislature has allotted to CSCU has been cut nearly 20 percent since 2015, according to The Hartford Courant.

Those cuts have come amid declining overall enrollment.

Ojakian said the system has some money socked away, but that it's not a long-term solution.

"If we end up with a $25 million deficit and we have $39 million of reserves, where do we go next year?" he asked. "We're going to have to have some very honest conversations with the legislature once the governor's budget comes out."

Emsi has also begun producing economic impact reports for the various regions of the state.

For example, the Capitol-East Region's five community colleges have an overall economic impact of $1.6 billion and support more than 17,300 jobs, according to EMSI (see link below).


Read CSCU's economic impact analysis on the Capitol-East Region

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