The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) has decided against approving accreditation for the new institution that would be created by consolidating Connecticut’s 12 community colleges.
Connecticut State Colleges and University President Mark Ojakian had presented the Students First plan, which would have consolidated the 12 campuses into one accredited institution. The CSCU system has seen years of reductions due to budget cuts, lapses and holdbacks. The plan, Ojakian argued, would result in $28 million in annual savings and a net job loss of 200 positions.
However, NEASC, which is the regional accreditation association, said that the plan was not simply a “substantive change” to the current model, but rather would create an entirely new institution, which would need to go through the full process of applying for accreditation. The commission ruled that it could not approve the Community College of Connecticut for accreditation based on the current proposal.
“Because of the magnitude of the proposed changes, the proposed timeline and the limited investment in supporting the changes, the Commission is concerned that the potential for a disorderly environmental for students is too high for it to approve the proposed Community College of Connecticut as a candidate for accreditation based on this proposal,” NEASC wrote in a letter.
In a letter to the CSCU community, Ojakian said officials were reviewing their options in light of the decision from NEASC.
“This decision by NEASC is devastating to our ability to hold the line on tuition and keep all campuses open. In the face of an on-going fiscal emergency, it forces us to consider options that we have strongly fought against because it will harm the 50,000 students who rely on their campuses and their campus communities,” Ojakian wrote.
Ojakian told NBC Connecticut he was shocked and blindsided by the decision.
Accreditation affects things like school funding and financial aid.
There had been stiff opposition to the plan from the start, including from faculty and staff. In a statement following the decision, the union CSU-AAUP president wrote she was relieved and that, “This massive consolidation was ill-researched and underestimated in scope.”
NEASC’s decision does not necessarily mean the plan was rejected entirely – the commission went on to say that if CSCU moves forward with the plan, they would support efforts to create a comprehensive proposal for candidacy. What the decision does is prevent CSCU officials from moving forward with their proposed timeline, which aimed to have new leadership structures in place by July 2019.
“While we expected further guidance, we did not expect NEASC to redirect us to consider 'candidacy for accreditation,' a new process that will take another 5 years. The problems that our institutions and students face cannot wait 5 years. In 5 years, our institutions will be financially insolvent,” Ojakian wrote.
Ojakian said they were considering appealing the decision.
"We don’t have the luxury of time because in two years were going to be insolvent and we wont be able to pay our bills," he said.
See the full response from NEASC below.