Michael Meotti, the interim president of the new Board of Regents for Higher Education, told community college trustees Monday that none of the 12 community colleges will close despite budget cutbacks and the reorganization of higher education.
Meotti met with the trustees to answer questions and seemed to assuage their fears that cutbacks and consolidation of the administration of higher education could hurt the colleges.
Louise S. Berry, chairwoman of the board, said that in many of the less populated areas of the state, "the community college is the hub of the region. ... If we lose the hub, then we're losing a great deal."
But Meotti said that would not happen, particularly at time when enrollment has been on the increase. "The idea of shrinking capacity" or "shrinking the geographic footprint" of the colleges doesn't make sense, he said.
Board members were also concerned about whether budget constraints will affect the colleges' tradition of open enrollment and about whether the system's unique mission will be preserved.
Meotti told them he doesn't know the answer on the open enrollment question, but he said, "if the economy unfortunately forces us to deal with those issues then there should be some kind of approach to it that is hopefully more than first come, first serve."
Meotti said he has heard the question raised on campuses: "Is it possible that we have students coming to us whose skill set is so basic - third- and fourth-grade math skill - that maybe we can't help them? I have no idea what the answer to that question is."
But Meotti said later that it may be that other programs should be developed to help that those students.
The community college system has long prided itself on an open-door policy, but Meotti noted that there are many programs at community colleges with prerequisites that often mean a student can't enroll, at least not right away.
On whether the community colleges' mission would be preserved, Meotti said, "I don't think there is any chance whatsoever that the purpose and the mission is at risk as a result of this reorganization."
Assistant Chancellor Mary Anne Cox said after the meeting that "President Meotti has been very reassuring, but of course this is a long-term process. We really won't know the outcome until there is an outcome."
Cox said that Meotti's indication that there might come a time when merit will figure into who can enroll at a community college would amount to "a complete change in the mission of community colleges."
On his assurance that no community college would be closed, Cox questioned how that would be accomplished, given the budgetary constraints. "I think the philosophy is reassuring, the interim president's expression of it is genuine, but there are yet very few specifics behind that reassurance."
The board also asked about its own role in the next six months. Under the reorganization, the community college and state university boards of trustees entered a period of transition on July 1 and will cease to exist as of Jan. 1.
A board of regents, expected to be named soon, would assume power during the next six months and completely supplant the trustees as of Jan. 1.
All of Connecticut's public universities and colleges are also facing millions of dollars in cutbacks because of tight budget times.
Board member Wallace Irish asked Meotti what the board should be doing during the next six months.
Meotti said it's possible the board may decide that "some of what you normally do, you don't need to do."
"Is that sort of the wish of the governor?" Irish asked. "That we just sort of go away ... fade into the background?"
Meotti said he was sure that the board would be able to get done what needs to be done in the next six months.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at