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Connecticut community colleges greenlit for merger, but some students and faculty say 'not so fast'

Four of the state's 12 community colleges: Manchester Community College, top left; Gateway Community College, bottom left; Quinebaug Valley Community College, top right; and Tunxis Community College.

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities officials announced Tuesday that the New England Commission of Higher Education has greenlit their proposal to consolidate 12 community colleges, which will be known as CT State.

The announcement came on the same day that state lawmakers held a public hearing on a bill that would require such mergers to get legislative approval. The state’s Higher Education Committee heard from students and professors who want the legislature to have the final say.

Jamie Czikowsky, a Tunxis Community College student, said consolidating community colleges raises tuition costs and eliminates much needed student services, like mental health. So, she supports the bill.

It will signal that people are more important than a profiteering bureaucracy,” she said. “It will signal the protection and preservation of our community college institutions.”

Last week, CSCU officials met with the higher education commission in Boston to present their request for a substantial change to the state community college system, a process that has been in the works for five years.

In a joint statement, CSCU President Terrence Cheng and CT State Interim President Michael Rooke said they take great pride in the state’s 12 unique community colleges.

“But the merger is responsive to the harsh realities that community colleges face – a steady enrollment decline, lagging student success metrics, and an unsustainable financial trajectory,” they said. “The plan takes material steps to address those core challenges, while maintaining the uniqueness of each of our current campuses and ensuring we have the resources to continue operations with sustainability and quality.”

But Lauren Doninger, a psychology professor at Gateway Community College, is not convinced. Speaking at the Tuesday public hearing, she called the merger an “untested gamble.”

“There is massive dysfunction and the worst is on the horizon,” Doninger said. “A curriculum that has been thrown together without governance. Our students deserve better and our state deserves better.”

The state Higher Education Committee is expected to receive a presentation from CSCU on the merger proposal on Thursday.