Plan Wouldn't Close Or Combine Schools; UConn Unaffected
February 09, 2011
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday called for a sweeping overhaul of the state's higher education system, which legislators and officials in the higher education system greeted with support, questions and a wait-and-see attitude.
The most dramatic elements of Malloy's plan include eliminating the boards for the Connecticut State University System, the community colleges and Charter Oak State College, as well as the Board of Governors for Higher Education. He would replace those boards with a single board of regents.
In addition, he would consolidate the central offices of the state university and community college systems and the management of the Department of Higher Education and Charter Oak into one office led by a chief executive officer.
The University of Connecticut would continue to operate separately, and no schools would be closed or combined.
The governor did not offer exact figures on how much money would be saved or how many jobs would be eliminated. His office said the proposal would save "tens of millions of dollars over time."
"I believe that we need to drive more money into the classroom. We need to have our eye on the prize, which is graduation rates, and timely graduation rates," Malloy said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "We need to do away with a lot of the seams in that system. We need to make it a lot easier for people — particularly people who are under pressure, because they're working, they're raising children — make it easier for them to get their degrees."
"And we need to get a lot of the bureaucracy out of the way and to flatten the management of these systems," Malloy said.
Michael Meotti, the commissioner of higher education, said the proposed governance structure is appealing because it more clearly reflects the way students behave.
"We do know that more and more students are moving between and across community colleges and local four-year institutions like Southern and Central," Meotti said.
"Obviously, the individual campuses will still have their leadership," Meotti added.
Meotti said he wasn't sure what would happen to him or his office of 50 people under a merger. However, he noted that consolidating his office with those of the state university system and community college system wouldn't be that difficult. All three offices are on Woodland Street. Meotti estimated that there are probably no more than 250 people in all three offices.
"We're not talking about merging General Motors and Ford here," he said.
If the governor's plan is to go forward, he will need the support of the legislature. On Wednesday, both co-chairwomen of the legislature's higher education committee expressed strong support for the proposal.
"I believe that this has the potential to give us a more unified focus and vision for Connecticut's higher education future," said state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford.
She said she would like to see the proposal include "a workforce development component."
State Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, who co-chairs the higher education committee, applauded the governor for what she said she hopes "is a bright new day for higher education in Connecticut."
State Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, the state House minority leader, praised Malloy for "taking much needed steps to downsize our bloated government systems and to eliminate unnecessary, unsustainable bureaucratic functions."
The proposal "needs to be fleshed out with detail," Cafero said. "I am hopeful we can work together to achieve these goals."
Malloy said he wants the new board of regents and chief executive officer to develop a strategic plan to increase educational attainment in Connecticut. He also called for steps to improve the readiness of high school students for college and to allow college students who move from one institution to another to more easily transfer their credits.
Mary Anne Cox, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Community College System, said that many of the goals mentioned by the governor are "interests that we share, such as increasing the number of adults in Connecticut with degrees, improving retention and graduation rates."
She said "our primary concern" is "that the state does not reduce its investment in higher education, because inevitably that will shut students out of higher education."
She said that if the community college system's board — which includes some members who have served for more than 30 years — is eliminated, expertise will be lost.
A "super board" she said, "certainly wouldn't have the length of experience, or the depth of understanding about the needs of community college students."
Late in the date Wednesday, representatives of Charter Oak College, an accredited distance learning school in New Britain, could not be reached for comment.
Richard Balducci, acting chairman of the CSUS board of trustees, which would be eliminated under the governor's proposal, said he wanted to withhold judgment for a while "until I have the opportunity to examine it and discuss it further."
The Minnesota Model
Malloy said that the system he is proposing is comparable to the one in Minnesota.
James H. McCormick, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said his state underwent a consolidation in the 1990s and has reaped benefits from it.
He and his staff said the move initially created "some stress" but resulted in better collaboration among institutions, made it easier for students to transfer credits and, they believe, saved money.
Paul Lingenfelter, head of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, a professional organization based in Colorado, said there are "some obvious savings" associated with the consolidation Malloy is suggesting and that the proposal sounds like "a very credible plan."
"I think experience proves that you can do good work in a variety of approaches, but every state has to sort of look at how things are working and make decisions about whether it is working well enough. … There's no magic bullet.
"There's nothing about the structure of a system that makes it work," Lingenfelter added. "What makes it work is what people do within the structure and what kind of leadership it is. That doesn't mean structure is irrelevant or that it's not a good idea to change things."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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