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CT Board of Regents highlight CSCU fiscal challenges

Terrence Cheng, Chancellor of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, who spoke at the Commissioner's Back-to-School Meeting earlier this month (above),
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Terrence Cheng, Chancellor of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, who spoke at the Commissioner's Back-to-School Meeting earlier this month (above), said in a special meeting today that he has "never seen or experienced the incredible set of challenges that lie before" the CSCU system.

Officials from the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system gave a status update on its fiscal challenges at a special meeting Wednesday, predicting “significant deficits” in the years ahead.

“I’ve been in higher education for more than 25 years,” said CSCU Chancellor Terrence Cheng. “I have never seen or experienced the incredible set of challenges that lie before us today. It is daunting. It is beyond daunting.”

Cheng projected all institutions within the system – Western Connecticut State University, Central Connecticut State University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University, Charter Oak State College, and CT State Community College – would be operating in a deficit by the 2025 fiscal year, with a combined system-wide deficit topping $348 million from fiscal year 2024 through fiscal year 2026.

“We’re not dealing with a two-year biennium budget problem,” Cheng said. “With the anticipation that there will be no increase in state funding, it is irrefutable that significant changes across the system are needed.”

Cheng said that while no final decisions had been reached in terms of how to right the system’s fiscal ship, changes could include increased scrutiny in hiring, voluntary unpaid schedule reduction for staff, a restriction on nonessential travel, review of vendor contracts, and an aggressive recruitment push to target falling enrollment.

The financial woes are not spread evenly across institutions in the CSCU system. CT State Community College, which offers two-year degree programs on 12 campuses across Connecticut, is predicted to see the largest budget shortfalls over the coming years, a combined $242 million deficit through fiscal year 2026.

CT State Chief Financial Officer Kerry Kelly said that due in part to a drop in funding from the state and federal governments and falling enrollment, it would likely be necessary to pursue cuts in the single biggest area of spending: staff and benefits.

“When we approach deficit mitigation, I think there’s an inescapable reality that personnel have to be a significant part of the resolution of our plan,” Kelly said.

“The current year deficit of $33.6 million means we can not maintain current services as we know them,” Kelly said. “We’re working to minimize the impacts to students, employees, equity and mission.”

CT State President Dr. John Maduko said the problem was structural and ongoing, noting he had eliminated redundant administrative positions at a savings of $1.7 million upon taking the helm of the college in June 2022. He said budget decisions would likely become even more difficult moving forward.

“I’m not losing sleep over this year,” Maduko said. “Maybe that’s disrespectful to say, but I’m losing sleep over next year, $91 million (of deficit). What are we going to do if the state does not come through? We have decrepit facilities. We have [Americans with Disabilities Act] issues on our campuses. For some reason, acts of God and flooding have impacted nine out of 12 of our main campuses, where some of our campuses are partnering with other locations to simply deliver instruction.”

“Our reserves will not cover that,” Maduko said.

The chancellor said the regents and CSCU’s central administration were meeting with leadership from member institutions on a biweekly basis in order to maintain communication and develop solutions.

“Every challenge is an opportunity,” Cheng said. “That is what we are focused on: Meeting today’s challenges by making necessary and critical changes, and by creating new opportunities that will benefit the state of Connecticut and the tens of thousands of students we serve for generations to come.”

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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