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Ojakian Explains His Plan For Administrative Consolidation Of CSCU System

Ryan Caron King
President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Mark Ojakian.

After a presentation from the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, the Board of Regents for Higher Education adopted the framework of a plan for sweeping administrative consolidations on Thursday.

Mark Ojakian said the 17 colleges and universities face at least a $35 million funding decrease for the next fiscal year and the budget concerns are not going away. There’s been declining state support over the last few years, and he said it's time to adapt.

The Board of Regents’ Faculty Advisory Committee met to discuss the proposed consolidation plan.  The FAC chair and vice chair are on the BOR and on committees, but without a vote.

In a statement late Thursday, the FAC said:

In the biggest decision that has ever come before the Board of Regents, the FAC is shocked at the lack of specificity in President Ojakian’s "Students First" proposal, and the lack of transparent deliberation that went into passing it. The FAC expects to have representatives from the FAC on all implementation teams, and that all impacted CSCU stakeholders and personnel will also be represented.

Rather than lay off faculty or shut down a community college, Ojakian said he’s centering his plan around what’s best for students. Earlier this week, he joined WNPR’s Diane Orson to talk about it.

Mark Ojakian: We had to consider a variety of options. The two that I am moving forward to the Board this week are one, an administrative consolidation system-wide of what I refer to as “back-office” functions --  human resources, purchasing, facilities, financial aid processing, those things that don’t need to be done at 17 different places, but we can leverage the expertise we have throughout the system to do it much more efficiently. There’s no reason that we should have to have 17 different institutions buying paper, buying pens, bidding out separately for food service.

And then we made a decision that in order to keep all the locations of the community colleges open, that we were going to move forward with a strategy to have one centrally managed college with campuses statewide. So we would phase in the consolidation of leadership and management.

WNPR's Diane Orson: What does that mean?

It means that if you take a map of Connecticut, first of all, and you put our community colleges on that map, within a 10-mile radius you will see the overlap between college locations. And so I don’t really believe that we need to replicate 12 different administrations on 12 different campuses. You may see one president over 12 institutions, you may see regional presidents. The focus here is to reduce administration by 20 percent.

Aside from the state’s budget difficulties, what are some of the other factors that have led to the situation that we’re faced with right now?

First of the all, the state’s budget situation is not just unique to this year. The state is in a permanent fiscal condition and we need to adapt to that. But we have a revenue problem as well.

Enrollment, for example, at most of our community colleges has gone down, with a couple of exceptions.  Now part of that is due to the declining number of high school graduates. The second piece that contributes to a declining enrollment is when the unemployment rate comes down there’s less of a need for people to go back to school, to learn new skills, to be retrained in different areas in order for them to be employed. We also haven’t done a good enough job as we should about retaining students. It's one thing to get them in the door. It's another thing to have a retention strategy that keeps them in and gets them towards graduation. It's not only in the best interest of the student to graduate, but it also keeps revenue in the system.

This reminds me of some of the debates around regionalization at the K-12 level, where on one hand, you have tremendous benefits when administrations that are very close to the communities that they serve. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how to address the challenges when administrations may be farther removed from the communities that they’re serving. 

I think there’s a way to provide that community interaction and to retain the uniqueness of each institution without replicating administration within such a close geographic area.

I’m happy you brought up regionalization, because one of the approaches is better cooperation between our two-year and four-year institutions. I made a conscious decision not to offer a strategy of merging the two-year colleges into the four-year universities because then I think the unique missions would have been blended and wouldn’t have provided the students with what they needed to be able to move forward. But I think there needs to be a greater partnership level between our four-year and our two-year institutions.

And should we assume at the moment that there won’t be any reductions in teaching staff?

That’s correct. The two strategies I’m bringing forward do not impact faculty and do not impact those personnel who personally interface with students in student service areas.

And so my hope is that we will not only retain what we have, but when we are in a much more sustainable position, we will put back additional resources into full-time tenure track faculty and student services. It will not go back to administration, it will go directly back to what helps the student the most.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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