Save Our Schools — Stop The “Students First” Initiative

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The president of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, Mark Ojakian, proposed all 12 state community colleges merge into one college. Each community college would be considered a separate campus. This initiative is called the Students First project, and plans to save an estimated $28 million, which is money the schools sorely need in light of the state government slashing the school budgets.

However, there are many issues with this so-called “Students First” initiative. Students First is a misnomer, as it does not put students first. In fact, the majority of students have never heard of this plan. A survey of 55 students at Norwalk Community College was conducted this week. They were asked two questions: 

1. Have you ever heard of the Students First project?
2. Are you aware of any meetings being held (open to students) concerning the Students First project?

Out of the 55 students asked on October 30, 100% of students said they had not heard of the Students First project. Out of the 55 students asked, 100% had no idea there was a meeting being held that very day on the issue. On the school website (, there was no meeting listed under events, and a search on the school website showed no information whatsoever on this plan. At the actual meeting itself, there were a handful of students in the room, while the majority were faculty who seemed just as confused about the plan as the rest of the students.
So how does the Students First plan actually put students first without even consulting them first? The simple answer is it doesn’t.
In one of several of President Ojakian’s proposals, the emphasis on putting students first is through this idea that being one college will make it easier for students to take classes on multiple campuses at the same time. He says that “students often take classes on multiple campuses,” without providing any statistic to back his statement up.
The facts show his statement is incorrect.
Only 1-2% of students currently take classes on multiple community college campuses.
He says that making it easier to go between campuses will make students more likely to take classes on different campuses.
That makes no sense.
Campuses are far too spread apart for it to be logical for students to commute to multiple schools in one week. Already, many students choose their community college because it is easy to get to, or it’s close by. So, for Ojakian to say that students are more likely to go between schools like Gateway and Norwalk, which are about 36 miles apart, is just illogical. Factor in the number of students who use public transportation to get to school while working part or even full time, and it’s even more blasphemous.

Ojakian has proposed elimination of programs at individual campuses, which will result in many students no longer being able to pursue the degree they need to succeed. For example, Housatonic Community College has a criminal justice program, as does Norwalk Community. Under the Students First consolidation, one of those schools could lose their criminal justice program. Going back to transportation, and ease of access for students, a student from Stamford taking classes at Norwalk is probably not going to commute to Bridgeport, especially if they rely on public transportation. 

There is no clear indication of how the individual campus programs will be impacted, whether that’s IDS courses, Honors programs, Vet Tech, or others. Not to mention, schools currently designated as Hispanic-serving Institutions would lose this status under one college, costing them multiple grants in the process. 

The proposal Ojakian has put forth has little to no information on exactly how this plan saves the $28 million. We have no idea precisely where this money is coming, nor where it will go. Some vague statements about more FAFSA officers and advisors are made, but there is nothing concrete in any of the plans we (the students) have seen. So in addition to making up non-existent issues for students that this claims to solve, there seems to be very little financial benefit that we can clearly see outlined. 

The Students First plan puts an emphasis on transfer pathways to feed students from the state community college into the four year Connecticut universities. However, this would make it incredibly difficult for students to transfer out of state to better schools. Housatonic has an amazing transfer pathway to NYU. Under this new initiative, there’s a high probability that Housatonic could lose its individuality as a school, its reputation, and therefor its prestige, negatively impacting any student who wishes to go on to bigger, brighter things than the four CT state universities. 

We are the students. We are who stand to be affected by this monumental decision and we deserve to have our voices heard, the majority of us, not just a few hand selected student governments. 

Our schools and students stand to lose a great deal in this consolidation, and we are adamantly opposed to it.... and yet no one has seemed to hear our opinions. 

We are calling on the CSCU Board of Regents to vote no to this deal. 

We are calling on the state legislators to get involved, to have a chance to vote no on this proposal.

We are calling on the NEASC to deny accreditation to the consolidated school.

We are calling on Mark Ojakian to listen to the concerns of the 52,000 students this proposal impacts. 

We are the students. We deserve to be heard, and we say NO to the “Students First” project.