Man speaks into microphones
Seth Freeman, president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, criticizes spending cuts for Capital Community College in Hartford during a news conference Tuesday. CT State, a new merged system that includes Capital Community College, says the reductions are a response to the state budget. Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

HARTFORD – Students and staff at Capital Community College on Tuesday called on the Board of Regents and state officials to free up funding to allow the college to avoid making significant cuts.

Seth Freeman, president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges and a professor at Capital Community College, called the cuts a “crisis.”

CCC, which is being rebranded as CT State Community College Capital as part of a merger, will eliminate cafeteria services, cut its director of career services position, and reduce tutoring and English-as-a-Second Language, or ESL, support.

“Connecticut State Community College is opening this fall, and it’s already failing our students and failing our state,” Freeman said during Tuesday’s news conference at the school.

He urged the Board of Regents to rely on a combined $125 million in reserves – $99 million for the community colleges and another $25 million for the system overall – to restore the funding. 

Ann Harrison, a spokesperson for CT State, said the system faces a $33.6 million shortfall after the legislature and Gov. Ned Lamont approved a budget that “did not provide us with the resources requested.”

She also said there is still time for Capital to address some of the concerns Freeman and others raised before students return to campus in two weeks.

She said CT State is still working to find a cafeteria service vendor for the community colleges, and Capitol administrators are working to find alternatives to continue offering career services. 

Those who joined Freeman on Tuesday were not optimistic, though, and saw the cuts as signs that the state is not properly investing in its community colleges.

“I refuse to let our community get pushed to the sidelines,” Capital student and Student Government Association President Jasmine Lall said. 

One of her concerns was the potential loss of a cafeteria, saying the on-site location provides convenient and affordable options for students who also work and or have other commitments.

Woman speaks into microphones
Costanza Segovia, a member of Hartford Deportation Defense, speaks in opposition to CT State’s decision to reduce services for English language learners at Capital Community College in Hartford. Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

Costanza Segovia, a member of Hartford Deportation Defense, said reducing ESL services hurts immigrants trying to be more proficient in English.

“All the things that they tell you you have to do in this country, now they are cutting the services of English as a second language,” she said.

Staffing among CT State is relatively even with last year for now, but documents given to the Board of Regents ahead of its June budget vote show the system has 68 fewer full-time and 1,754 fewer faculty positions than it did in 2019.

The Board of Regents has said the issue is a lack of funding from the state. The CSCU’s overall budget shortfall is projected to balloon to $147 million next year. 

“We are making strategic operational adjustments that allow us to continue to serve 70,000 students across 18 locations each year with education and support services in the most efficient way possible while remaining the most affordable, accessible, and diverse institution of higher education in Connecticut,” Harrison said in her statement. 

State Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, co-chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Committee, said he tried to warn his colleagues that the Connecticut State College and Universities, which include CT State, would have to make tough decisions.

CSCU has relied on American Rescue Plan Act funding to help cover operating costs since the pandemic, but that funding is going away.

“It’s not surprising to me that the system is now scaling back services, given the amount of funding and the kind of funding we’ve given them to this point,” Haddad said. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, doesn’t think more money is the answer, though. He pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal report that found Connecticut has increased spending on higher education by 73% since 2002, while enrollment rose only 47%.

Kentucky had the second highest increase in spending, at 47%. Candelora said the state may need to look at consolidating public universities and colleges that can’t cover their costs. 

“It’s not a popular thing to say but I think we don’t need a school in every other town in the state of Connecticut,” Candelora said.

A spokesman for Lamont also put the focus on making the schools more efficient, although he did not voice support for closures.

“The governor is committed to ensuring that Connecticut’s state colleges and universities meet the needs of students as they prepare to enter the workforce or go onto higher education,” the spokesman, Adam Joseph, said in a statement. “The administration will continue work with the system’s leadership and members of the General Assembly to ensure the efficient allocation and prioritization of resources – reflective of enrollment – and a sustainable financial future for the system.”