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Connecticut legislators form community colleges caucus

A bipartisan group of legislators has formed a caucus in part to stay abreast of the planned consolidation of Connecticut’s community colleges into one Connecticut State Community College.

Chaired by state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and state Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, the Bipartisan Community College Caucus will hold its first meeting on Monday with a virtual information session.

Cheeseman as well as Diba Khan-Bureau, a professor and program coordinator of environmental engineering technology at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, are expecting a number of speakers. Roberta Willis, a former longtime Connecticut state representative; Khan-Bureau; Estela Lopez, former interim provost for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities; Central New Mexico Community College President Tracy Hartzler; Colena Sesanker, who once taught at Three Rivers and is now a professor at Gateway Community College, and others will be speaking.

“Given the number of community colleges we have, I think it’s fair to say that certainly legislators, if they don’t have one in their district, have students who attend them in their district and take a real interest in this process, and have heard from students and faculty about how a plan with purported aims to improve the student experience as well as save money does not appear to be delivering on either front,” Cheeseman said.

Monday’s meeting is meant mostly to get a better sense of issues facing Connecticut’s community colleges, specifically with regards to the planned merger.

“I think the goal will be to drill deeply into the consolidation process and also see if there’s a way to achieve the goals outside that process,” Cheeseman said. “It should continue to maintain the unique quality of local community colleges, improve the student experience and result in cost savings.”

Khan-Bureau said professors and their unions were encouraged by the strong response from legislators. “We were pleasantly surprised after the emails were sent out requesting legislators to volunteer for this bipartisan caucus, that up to 50 legislators were interested in participating,” she said. “This alone indicates that legislators are concerned that the system office and the board of regents are moving too swiftly, without faculty buy-in or support, to consolidate all 12 community colleges in Connecticut.”

“Higher education is too important, and we must take care of these institutions, our gems,” she continued. “The faculty, staff and students thank all the legislators who have volunteered.”

The roughly 55 legislators who said they’d want to be a part of Monday’s information session are not yet full-fledged members of the caucus.

While professors believe there’s still hope to defeat the Students First merger, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities anticipates it will be completed — marked by the launch of Connecticut State Community College — for the fall 2023 semester.

s.spinella@theday.com

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