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CCSU Looks To Expand In New Britain And Into Hartford

Declines In Enrollment And State Funding Prompt Need For A New, Sustainable Model

By Kathleen Megan

January 27, 2013

Faced with declining enrollment and decreasing state funds, Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller is planning to establish a presence in downtown Hartford and to expand the university's offerings in downtown New Britain.

"We are landlocked here" in the northeastern corner of New Britain, Miller said. "We only have a limited amount of space."

So as he considered the university's options for expansion and for shoring up its finances and enrollment numbers, Miller said he asked this question: "Where can we do more to help?"

With the CTfastrak busway under construction between New Britain and Hartford, the answer seemed obvious. "We are in between them," Miller said of the downtowns. "The bus runs by our campus. When you take all these pieces and put them together ..."

Miller said the hope is that the school's presence in both cities will lead to more students' completing college, help to rebuild the cities and strengthen the university's financial and educational future.

As Miller put it in a speech he made to faculty at the start of the school year: "It's not my ambition in life to just survive. We can build on what we've accomplished, but we've really got to reach for much loftier goals."

The discussions are still in the early stages, but university officials are collaborating with Capital Community College in Hartford to possibly offer some pilot courses in Hartford as early as this fall, perhaps in nursing. And the university is actively looking for property to expand in New Britain's downtown and will soon be doing the same in Hartford, university officials said.

"We aren't just sitting around thinking, 'Hey, maybe,' " Miller said. "It's more like, 'Hey, how?' "

Hartford seems eager to work with the university.

Maribel La Luz, spokeswoman for Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra, said in an email, "We would welcome the discussion as CCSU would perfectly complement other education institutions that understand the Mayor's vision of development, growth and vibrancy and have recently chosen to locate and invest in Hartford."

Less than three months ago, the University of Connecticut confirmed its plans to move its branch in West Hartford to downtown Hartford. Since then UConn has been considering various locations but has not selected one.

UConn President Susan Herbst said in an email: "We are excited that CCSU is going to develop programming downtown, because it will add even more synergy to what we hope to do. We will be sure to work out our programs to complement each other, and in the best case, can join forces for joint courses, faculty, and maybe even teaching space, if that can bring some efficiencies.'

Mary Ann Affleck, the academic dean at Capital Community College, said the college is eager to collaborate with CCSU. Central is the "transfer institution of choice for our students," Affleck said, and having Central downtown might make it easier for students with an associate's degree from Capital to continue on for a bachelor's from Central.

"Many of our students do not have cars," Affleck said, noting that the busway will also help Hartford students who want to commute to Central's New Britain campus. Although students have been able to get from downtown Hartford to Central by bus, the new busway is expected to offer quicker, more efficient transportation. The busway is scheduled to open in late 2014.

Looking To Be 'Exceptional'

The plans to expand are part of what Miller has called a "really bold new course to become exceptional."

Miller first outlined the plans in an Aug. 28 speech to the faculty and staff when he told them, "We need to set a realistic goal, and I think a realistic goal for us is to be an exceptional, regional public comprehensive university."

In that same speech, Miller said, "It's not reaching for stars" to think about being in the company of schools such as George Mason and James Madison universities, but to do so, he said, Central must increase its enrollment and campus size. He spoke of expanding the campus onto university-owned land east of campus and adjacent to the busway, and of expanding in New Britain and into Hartford.

In Hartford, Miller would hope to offer both undergraduate and graduate-level courses at what he called a center. University officials said that undergraduate courses in nursing and business would be likely, as well as graduate courses for those in urban teacher education, social work, and the insurance industry.

"There should be a state university presence in Hartford to help rebuild the city of Hartford," Miller said in his August speech.

In New Britain, CCSU already has an Institute of Technology and Business Development that is involved in workforce training and development and in business incubation. University officials said the school wants to offer courses in areas such as business and biology in downtown New Britain. Miller also mentioned in his speech that he'd like to see housing for graduate students and faculty in downtown New Britain.

Miller spoke of increasing the enrollment of out-of-state students by 15 percent. Because those students pay substantially more in tuition than in-state students, there would be a significant increase in revenue. Miller also would like to see the endowment, which doubled in size to $38 million during the past seven years, double again in the coming years to $80 million.

He also mentioned building a new school of education and a companion magnet school.

Carl R. Lovitt, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the university is exploring alternative ways to make programs more accessible to potential students. For instance, he said, the university offers a master's in criminal justice for West Hartford police officers at the police department in West Hartford. The university also offers a weekend master's degree program in social work.

A 'Sustainable' Model

The call for change is driven by the declining numbers of high school students in Connecticut, the dropping enrollment and the decreasing state funding.

After years of a slightly increasing enrollment at Central, enrollment this semester is down 1.8 percent compared with a year ago.

"Frankly, the trajectory that we are on we being higher education is ultimately unsustainable," Lovitt said.

The university dealt with a cut in state funding of $7.5 million during the previous fiscal year, and faces a cut of nearly $3.5 million in the current fiscal year. The school has a hiring freeze in place.

Lovitt said the only way the university has been able to offset state cutbacks is by increasing tuition.

"That's the model that is unsustainable," he said. "At some point our market will not be able to bear the increase. Who's to say we aren't losing students because tuition has gone up beyond their means?"

In the past four years, tuition and fees have gone up from $7,042 in the fall of 2008 to $8,321 for the current academic year; for out-of-state students it's gone from $16,179 to $19,353 during the same period.

The alternative is to keep cutting the university's budget, Lovitt said. "You don't replace positions when they become vacant, you cut back on department resources," he said.

Or, Lovitt said, "You find some way to replace the revenue that you are losing. We are investing in a slightly different future because the present model doesn't support us the way it used to because of declining enrollment, declining numbers of high school graduates."

Lovitt said he thinks Miller favors an approach that looks for new sources of revenue because "he doesn't want us to keep getting smaller and poorer because the needs are real. If our traditional constituency is constricting then perhaps we need to look at how to better serve a different constituency."

In his speech in August, Miller told the faculty the school needs to think bigger.

"We have to think about what we can be, and how we can become exceptional not setting our course on survival but setting our course on exceptional," he said.

At least one faculty member, Candace Barrington, formerly president of the faculty senate, said she was glad to hear Miller talk about "more than treading water" as she saw it, at a time when, she said, the mood at many financially strapped universities is so "doom and gloom."

Barrington said Miller is usually more focused on "pragmatics than inspiration," but she finds his plans for Central's future inspiring.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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