(Updated) In keeping with his mission to streamline state government, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled his plans Wednesday to consolidate the state’s Department of Higher Education.
The University of Connecticut, will remain separate, while other public two- and four-year schools will have a combined governance system.
Admittedly the plan is controversial because it means entire boards will be eliminated and it’s still unclear, even after a press conference, whether Malloy will modify how the funding to the universities and community colleges is distributed.
“This won’t be easy, and certainly there are a lot of people listening to this who believe things are fine just the way they are,“ said Malloy. “I disagree, and that’s why I’m proposing this overhaul to help put more money toward teaching, and less toward central office and board hierarchy. We need to adapt to a broad and changing economy and this will help us do that.”
Malloy says the plan will save taxpayers “tens of millions of dollars” over time and is similar to a model adopted by the state of Minnesota.
At first blush the co-chairs of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee believe it’s a good start, but both, Rep. Roberta Willis and Sen. Beth Bye expressed concerns about the community college system and the path toward job creation.
“I have concerns about the community colleges,“ Willis said in a phone interview. “They have a very specific mission and I don’t want to see the community taken out of community college. I don’t want them to lose their identity in the consolidation.”
Bye, in a separate phone interview echoed Willis’ concerns, and said workforce competitiveness needs to be added to the agenda of community colleges. She said she hopes the new structure doesn’t infringe on the relationship community colleges have been building with the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Ultimately Bye said the proposal works to give the universities more autonomy, while also setting out goals they must achieve.
“Keeping money close to students and money in the classrooms is a great start,” Bye said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who was critical of Malloy’s creation of an energy department inside the Department of Environmental Protection, said he likes this proposal.
Cafero noted that in the last budget cycle federal restrictions were placed on reforming higher education, but this year those restrictions don’t apply.
“We are now free to be creative in remaking government and public sector agencies,” Cafero said. “This proposal by the Governor of course needs to be fleshed out with detail – just how much more efficient our higher education system can be made, and just how much money this will save. But it is a much needed effort and I am hopeful we can work together to achieve those goals,’’ Cafero added.
The core elements of Malloy’s reorganization plan are:
1. Eliminate the boards for the Connecticut State University System, the community colleges, Charter Oak State College and the Board of Governors for Higher Education and combine their authority into one Board of Regents for Higher Education.
2. Consolidate the central offices of CSU and the community college system and the management of DHE and Charter Oak State College into one office reporting to one CEO.
3. Direct the Board of Regents and CEO to develop a strategic plan with public and stakeholder participation to increase Connecticut’s educational attainment.
4. Direct the Board of Regents to develop a formula to distribute taxpayer support to campuses on the basis of enrollment, attainment of identified policy goals and other factors.
5. Require the Board to develop annual reports on:
a. Student outcomes such as retention and graduation
b. Financial issues including
i. Allocation of resources across functions (education, administration, etc.)
ii. Analysis of costs and revenues on an academic program basis
iii. An affordability index based on median Connecticut family household income
c. Enrollment and completions on a program basis
d. Transfer of credits across institutions
e. Employment and earning outcomes of graduates (in partnership with the state Department of Labor)