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Half of Connecticut Community Colleges’ Reserves Drained to Address Budget Shortfalls

  • Governing board for Connecticut’s community college system withdraws half its reserve funds to address revenue shortfalls
  • Decision motivated by lack of commitment to aid or concessions from governor, legislature, or school unions
  • Additional cuts of $8 million made to state’s universities

The Board of Regents for Connecticut’s community college system has withdrawn half of the schools’ available reserves due to a decline in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty over state aid or union concessions.

The board voted Thursday to draw down the reserve funds for the dozen community colleges in Connecticut from $31 million to $16 million, which is enough to cover approximately 3 percent of the schools’ annual operating costs. Enrollment at the community colleges has dropped by 15 percent during the pandemic, with a corresponding decline in tuition revenue.

The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system previously requested $69 million to address budget shortfalls brought on by lower enrollment. The University of Connecticut has separately asked for $104 million.

Gov. Ned Lamont has approved an allocation of $16.4 million in federal funding to CCSU and says discussions are ongoing to address the situation, but has not committed to further appropriations. He has also noted that federal funds directed to the state under the CARES Act has largely been spent, and that the money may not be available to the state’s public school system since it must be used for COVID-19 expenses.

Earlier this year, CCSU withdrew $3 million from its reserve funds to meet its commitment to the PACT plan, which covers any gaps in assistance to allow first-time community colleges to attend courses without paying tuition. CCSU President Mark Ojakian has also criticized the system’s employee unions, saying they have been unwilling to accept furloughs or other concessions to help close the budget gap.

In addition to the withdrawal of funds from reserves, the board voted to cut $8 million from the state’s four regional universities. Decisions on where the cuts will be made are being left to leaders of individual universities.

Community college advocates say they are an affordable way for students to earn the credentials and training necessary to access high-quality jobs. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is calling for programs and funding to make community colleges more accessible. President Donald Trump has not released a detailed plan for higher education, though he has pushed alternatives to college such as apprenticeships or work-based learning; in 2018, he received criticism from several community college leaders who said Trump’s remarks downplayed the education offered at community colleges.

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