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Community college officials say the 12-school merger will streamline student experience

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.
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.

After a regional accreditor’s approval of the merger proposal by Connecticut State Colleges and Universities last week, education officials called it a milestone toward higher enrollment and financial stability.

If fully approved, the dozen campuses will become a single community college system called CT State. The entire final approval and accreditation process is expected to take about 15 months.

Mike Rooke, CT State’s interim president, said the primary reasons for the merger are to increase student enrollment, return the community college system to financial stability and have a consistent process.

“We’re trying to bring consistency, and ‘level the playing field’ is the way I would put it. So every student can access the same service whether you’re in Winstead, Norwalk, or Danielson or Norwich,” said Rooke.

Student enrollment at the state’s community colleges has been declining for years, a decline that Rooke said was exacerbated by the pandemic. The state saw peak enrollment in 2010 with over 50,000 students. According to Rooke, the student head count is now around 30,000.

“The pandemic hits community college students much harder than other areas of higher education because of the susceptibility of our students. A lot of them are single parents, working multiple jobs, or work in low-income areas,” he said.

In response to student and faculty concerns about the merger, CSCU officials told the state’s Higher Education Committee last week that by becoming a single school, it will streamline a lot of the processes. This includes transferring class credits, schedule flexibility and having a better ratio of advisers to students.

To ensure that students get better services, CSCU said it plans to hire 150 more advisers with the goal of being fully staffed by this summer, said Alison Buckley, vice president for CSCU’s Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

“We are switching the student-to-adviser ratio to be from its current 750-to-1 to 250-to-1,” she said. “The focus of this is every community college student in Connecticut has a person, that when they have their unique barriers and challenges, there is someone there mitigating that barrier on a one-to-one basis.”

Students and faculty voiced concerns during a public hearing last week on the merger, touching on issues like potential cutbacks in student services.

Emphasizing that services like mental health support will not change, Rooke said they are not downsizing any student services.

“We are actually investing in more programs, especially for mental health counseling,” he said. “This is also to help create consistency in the level of services from one campus to another.”

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.

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