- Less than a week after the closure of an online learning platform was announced, the Connecticut Mirror reports the Connecticut Board of Regents painted a grim picture of consolidations and other cost-saving efforts for the state's higher education system.
- Regents expect cash reserves of the state's online-only Charter Oak State College to be exhausted in during the upcoming fiscal year, while reserves for the state's community colleges to run out in 2019-2020 and four-year institutions in 2020-2021, due in large part to increasing costs for fringe benefits and pension contributions.
- Regents said they have been hamstrung by the inability to meet rising costs with tuition increases while navigating budget cuts and working to eliminate or consolidate degree programs while maintaining good standing with the state's regional accrediting agency.
Pension and fringe benefits may be the undoing of many colleges and higher education systems across the country, as a recent profile of the University of Oregon's struggles plainly outlines. Whether or not consolidations can help ease the burden of retirement and benefit costs to the state's coffers remains to be seen, but the answer may not lie outside of higher education and its revenues.
Most lawmakers understand that colleges and universities help boost small businesses, tourism and public-private partnerships while making livable communities and a smarter workforce. But in states throughout the country, manufacturing and other industries are dying, taking with them tax revenues that help finance higher education spending for campus construction and renovation and student tuition and aid.
How can institutions yield long-term benefits without short-term resources? Community colleges may be the closest to cracking the code on how to solicit support from the private sector for public institutional support by providing programs that meet the employment needs of their communities. For instance, California Community Colleges are partnering with industries in the Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy program, while two-year colleges in Maine, which is suffering from population loss, are training immigrants to be much-needed first responders.
Four-year institutions may need to look closer at program redesign and training modules to attract the same kind of synergy.