Association's ruling dismisses plan to consolidate CT colleges, universities

(CSCU photo)

There was a major blow for Connecticut colleges and universities on Tuesday.

A ruling by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges dismisses a plan to consolidate the system in order to save money.

The president of the state college system, Mark Ojakian, says this could force some campuses to close and raise tuition.

Ojakian said he has been working on a plan for the past year.

He said Tuesday's ruling basically rejects their proposal to consolidate 12 of the campuses into one main college.

This would have saved money without significantly raising tuition and hurting education.

The system serves about 55,000 students.

The president says the ruling is extremely disappointing because the one thing they were trying to avoid was hurting students.

"My focus since day one of becoming president has been on students, and on making sure they have an affordable accessible and high-quality education and that they can achieve their educational dreams. I think this severely hampers the ability to continue to serve all 55,000 students in the community college system,” Ojakian said.

He said this ruling could be closing some of the 12 campuses and raising tuition.

"In two years, we were not going to have enough money to continue to operate all of our systems," Ojakian said.

The consolidation plan was a way to save money, as the college system has been getting less funding from the state.

They said right now they are facing a deficit of at least $100 million.

Yearly tuition is about $4,300 a year. The president worries that raising it will prevent students from getting a good education, as some students are first-generation students, single moms, or returning veterans.

"This is not a decision that helps our students stay in school and complete their education. Because services are going to continue to decline, classes are going to be less available and students will have to stay in school longer and at more expense to them to complete their education,” Ojakian said.

Union contracts prevent the college system from laying off employees for the next two years.

The president says he will see if they can appeal this decision, if not they may have to start all over again and see if they can come up with another plan, but closing campuses and raising tuition may have to be a part of that.

State lawmakers are working to figure out what to do next.

"You can lose campuses, raise tuition, none of the things anyone wants to do," said State Representative Matt Ritter.

Ojakian was told the magnitude of their plan was too much and that the Regional Accreditation Commission wanted them to do a costly study, which would have taken five years.

Ojakian also plans to appeal the decision, an if necessary, start at ground zero with another plan.

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