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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Connecticut State Colleges and Universities meet deficit with multimillion dollar cuts to operations

    Even with budget cuts and boosted revenue streams, leaders of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities say the higher education system will suffer a $46.7 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2025.

    At the CSCU Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, presidents representing the six institutions within the CSCU system shared plans to negate more than $106 million from their operating budgets.

    CSCU’s Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Blanchard said the mitigation efforts would bring the system’s budget in balance for Fiscal Year 2024, but leave a $46.7 million hole in Fiscal Year 2025.

    The strategies, which lean into “right-sizing” operations and reducing expenditures, were decried by members of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges and the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors.

    The unions, which represent CSCU students and faculty, said the budget cuts would slash staff, course offerings, degree programs and student resources across the CSCU system while simultaneously demanding that students pay more through tuition hikes.

    In an August meeting, citing increasing costs, a 10-year decline in enrollment, lapsed COVID funding, and changes to the state’s fringe benefit payment, CSCU initially projected deficits of $13.7 million in Fiscal Year 2024 and $140.2 in Fiscal Year 2025.

    On Wednesday, Blanchard said CSCU plans to mitigate $106.6 million in 2025 with approximate gains of $7.5 million in technical adjustments, $29.8 million in new revenue, $20.3 million in institutional reserves, and a $49 million reduction in expenditures.

    When all is done, Blanchard said all but two CSCU institutions are projected to break even in 2025.

    The two colleges that will require additional support are Western Connecticut State University with $6.3 million and Connecticut State Community College with $41.3 million, Blanchard said.

    CT State President John Maduko and CT State Vice President of Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer Kerry Kelley said the bulk of CT State’s $50 million mitigation strategy would be realized by reducing spending, cutting staff in critical and noncritical areas and drawing on $22.2 million in reserves.

    “Connecticut is second only to the state of Arizona for the highest level of enrollment declines for community colleges in the country. Crawling back from what we lost is a huge effort,” Maduko said. “We’re trying to be reasonable and conservative, but also despite what’s in the plan, and we’re being aggressive in terms of a lot of initiatives in nursing expansion, workforce expansion, dual enrollment expansion to really kind of help buffer and increase our enrollment.”

    Kelley said 40% of the mitigation strategies hurt CT State employees. She said 27% of the strategies negatively impact students by reducing staff and hours of operation, closing fitness centers and limiting opportunities for student employment.

    “What I’m hearing here is not your vision for the community college, Dr. Maduko. I’m hearing our coping mechanisms,” Board of Regents Ex-Officio Colena Sesanker said.

    Sesansker described the mitigation plan as inequitable and “far from” justice.

    “We are actually describing conditions where we are offering significantly less to students for more money,” Sesanker said, noting that the Board of Regents voted for a 5% tuition increase next year. “When we are talking about the amount of money that we need, I understand that it’s possible to cut to the extent that you have described here, but I don’t think that it’s as advisable or even ethical to cut to that level.”

    Sesansker called on the CT State Community College leaders and the BOR to demand more money from the state government.

    “(This is) the student population that’s the most economically disadvantaged, (and) most likely to come from racially segregated high schools,” Sesansker said. “The state has chosen as its sacrificial lamb, for the sake of the state budget, the most vulnerable people who are to build our future in order to compensate for our failures in the past, to pay our debts to past workers.”

    At a rally before the BOR meeting, CSCU students and faculty shared similar sentiments, calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and the Office of Policy and Management to invest in higher education.

    “Our students come from the most under-resourced K-12 districts and Gov. Lamont wants to continue cutting their opportunities in the public higher education system,” Michael Hinton, an instructor of English and theater at Tunxis Community College, said. “The state’s leadership claims to be champions of equity, but they refuse to put the necessary money behind it to make equity happen.”

    Speakers at the demonstration spoke against mitigation strategies as the state sits on a multibillion-dollar surplus. Others said that they feel leaders treat their education and needs as an afterthought.

    “When they talk about consolidating programs, what they’re really talking about is cutting hundreds of us off from them and cutting us off from our education and from our hope for a better future,” Southern Connecticut State University student Rakim Grant said.

    “As decisions made in this building give professors less time for us and the resources that we rely on to survive on campus dry up, we drop like flies,” Grant added. “These are hard times building on decades of stagnant and decreased funding. The system is being kicked while it’s down.”

    In an email to the Courant, Chris Collibee, the communications director for the Office of Policy and Management, said the Lamont administration “is working closely with the CSCU system to assist it in meeting these challenges, consistent with the state government’s obligation to live within its means.”

    “It has been clear for some time now that federal COVID relief funding was intended to be one-time in nature. The FY24 and FY25 budget provides the last of this funding, over and above the state block grant (which itself is higher than previous years), to allow for a glide path to a level of state funding consistent with historic levels,” Collibee said. “The CSCU system continues to have some work to do to adjust to the market that it serves — a market whose demand has contracted over the last decade.”

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