New CT Community Colleges president, faculty union leader agree: Challenges lie ahead with merger
Schools of all kinds are back in session across Connecticut. That includes the state's 12 community colleges. The colleges have recently earned Connecticut the top spot in Wallet Hub’s ranking of America's top community college systems – in part because of a state-subsidized tuition program.
But a big change is coming. In July of 2023, those 12 colleges are about to become one.
Consolidation of Connecticut’s community colleges has been in the making for more than a decade. In that time, the plan faced opposition from community college faculty, administrators and from some students. The merger talks gained steam in 2011, after then-Gov. Dannel Malloy inherited a large state budget deficit as the state slowly emerged from the 2008 recession. Along with funding challenges, past state leaderscited declining enrollment at community colleges. That’s a trend happeningacross the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it. This past summer, the state hired a new person to tackle the many challenges of this merger, as the planned first semester of the combined entity approaches next fall.
Listening and leading
John Maduko is thefirst permanent president of the newly formed Connecticut State Community College, or “CT State.” He is tasked with turning 12 successful community colleges into one system with 12 campuses, all while helping to address a recently announced $200 million deficit.
Maduko said that “we're not going to erase the legacy of each of our 12 campuses.” Instead, he said he plans to structure his fall visits to each campus as an opportunity to meet with faculty, staff, and community and foundation members. “To speak to what this merger will be, in terms of efficiency [and] being more fiscally sound,” he said.
Seth Freeman is president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, the union that represents thousands of community college workers, and a professor at Capital Community College. He told All Things Considered there are plenty of concerns for Maduko to address, especially when it comes to plans to potentially centralize administrative support elements that are currently offered separately on each campus.
“The lack of enrollment is a challenge. But with that said ... the plan to cut and ... disinvest in our community colleges is not a plan that's going to increase enrollment,” Freeman said. “If our students come to any one of our campuses and they find offices that are either understaffed or ... don't have the resources they need, those students aren't going to come back.”
Freeman was particularly worried about a proposal to get rid of campus-specific academic department heads and possibly some campus-specific departments altogether. However, Maduko tells CT Public that such a move is not set in stone.
“Currently, the faculty union and our labor relations are in negotiations and discussions on the very fact [of] department chairs,” Maduko said. “We've actually reintroduced the idea of department chairs, and now as a concession that I supported and let my team know, to put back on the table.”
He said the system’s counterproposal is a “form” of department chairs that would be located at each individual campus. When asked what he meant by “form,” Maduko replied, “in terms of, like, the number of department chairs.”
Freeman says some of the goals of the consolidation make sense for students, like standardizing the curriculum, cutting back-end costs by merging IT services and ensuring that credits transfer between each of the community college campuses.
Maduko tells CT Public he will do his best to make sure unique programs, like those that cater to the military, will be preserved at their home campuses.
“We’re not trying to have a uniform cookie-cutter approach, right? There are 12 individual strengths that we’re going to leverage,” Maduko said. “But there are areas of duplication, there are common areas as it pertains to gen-eds and students seeking to transfer to the university that we feel that we can optimize across the 12 locations throughout the state.”
As he makes his way to meet with stakeholders at the 12 locations, Maduko says he wants to reassure staff that with consolidation and academic accreditation for the new system, each campus can still “adhere to the mission and values of the institution.”
Union president Freeman said he will wait and see, because he believes the board leading the consolidation effort has lacked transparency so far.
“Until the details of the plan are worked out ... until faculty and staff across the state have had an opportunity to ensure our voices are heard, it's hard to assess the veracity of that statement,” Freeman said. “The way that this process has unfolded, the Board of Regents have not met what's happening in the staff or our unions in a transparent and honest way.”
The Board of Regents, which has overseen the consolidation effort so far, directed CT Public to Maduko for a response to Freeman’s concerns over lack of transparency.
“I can’t speak to situations when I wasn’t here,” said Maduko, who was hired by the Board of Regents over the summer. “I don’t speak for the state … I don’t speak for the Board of Regents, but as CT State president, ultimately it’s my responsibility to make sure that we have a balanced budget.”