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Merging Boards Of State University System, Community Colleges A Smart First Step

With less money and merged boards, necessity will mother cost-saving, educative inventions

The Hartford Courant

May 07, 2011

For a while, the governor's idea of merging Connecticut's community colleges and state universities (except for the big flagship one) under one governing board was treated by legislators like the drunken cousin at the family reunion.

But these days, there's just no time or money for that. State government has to get leaner.

So legislators have come around, begrudgingly, and agreed to the governor's plan for combining boards of public higher education, minus the University of Connecticut.

Just in time, because this new board of regents will have to figure out where to cut $35 million from the institutions under their charge the four-campus Connecticut State University System, the 12 community colleges, the online Charter Oak College and the state Department of Higher Education.

Connecticut is hardly alone in cutting and consolidating higher ed. Nevada is looking at $162 million in cuts, Washington state at $447 million and Texas $771 million. Pennsylvania's governor proposed slashing higher ed there by half.

The modest consolidation plan authored by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to save $4.3 million by eliminating staff in the school's central offices. Cutting away duplicative administrative timber and redirecting more resources to the classroom, as the governor proposes, are sensible ideas even if they drew a lot of heated criticism at public hearings.

Lawmakers had worried that the budgets, missions and autonomy of the colleges and universities would be blurred. But their concerns were mollified, and they agreed to go forward. It was a wise meeting of the minds, because the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The new board will govern campuses (real and online) with nearly 100,000 students and 6,600 full-time employees. Each institution will have a seat at the table.

May necessity mother some fresh cost-saving inventions from the regents.

With New Board, More Oversight

Connecticut has been generous with its public colleges and universities. More than $3 billion will have been invested in improving UConn and CSUS campuses by the end of this decade. That infusion is raising the schools' academic profiles and making them desirable destinations for students.

But there is a rising tide of public resentment against what's seen as unaccountable decision-making and wasteful spending bloated bureaucracies, double-dipping, large pensions and salaries, double-digit raises, expensive perks on campuses across the state, including the Big Daddy of higher education here, UConn.

UConn has had budget independence for 20 years. Much of its financial information is buried from public view. Reporter Jon Lender had to file a Freedom of Information Act request recently to learn that the university is paying its police chief $255,000 a year and his second-in-command $201,000 more than the chiefs of New York City and Boston get.

The flagship university was left out of the community college/CSUS consolidation, but it is included as it should be as part of a new strategic planning initiative OK'd by legislative leaders and the governor.

UConn is the biggest part of the higher education whole. For the purposes of planning and coordination, and for finding efficiencies and allocating scarce resources, it just makes sense for all the institutions to be part of strategic planning.

We're with Mr. Malloy in believing that something needs to be done about higher education this year.

The question of whether the institutions should retain their budget autonomy should also be taken up soon apart from whatever is done with governance.

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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