WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (AP) — The new president of Connecticut's Board of Regents said Wednesday he hopes a wide-ranging blueprint for the future of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities will be ready by spring, eventually transforming the collection of community colleges, universities and the state's online institution into a truly integrated system of higher education.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gregory Gray said he envisions the 17 schools will operate similar to the State University of New York system, where there is collaboration and cooperation among 64 different campuses. Gray is a former dean in the SUNY system, where he worked earlier in his career.
"It worked well over there and I think it can work well here," said Gray, during a visit to Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.
Gray, most recently the chancellor of the Riverside Community College District in Calif., started his new job in Connecticut on July 1. He is in the middle of touring the four state universities and the 12 community colleges that make up the recently created ConnSCU system. Previously, the state universities, community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College were all governed separately, serving a total of nearly 100,000 students.
While the long-range plan for the new system is still being crafted, Gray foresees some major themes. For example, he said the presidents of the four state universities will likely recommend ways to enhance their schools' specific areas of excellence. For example, he said ECSU is recognized regionally for its strength as a liberal arts school. Gray said he hopes to see ECSU eventually recognized nationally as a strong liberal arts institution. He also pointed to the engineering program at Central Connecticut State University as another strength that can be played up.
Gray said the ultimate plan, expected to be presented to state lawmakers and at town hall-style meetings to gather input from stakeholders, will place an even greater focus on workforce training at the community colleges. He said students will get the knowledge they need to easily fill jobs in advanced manufacturing, allied health, hospitality and other career clusters.
For Charter Oak State College, Gray said he'd like to see greater use of the online school. Currently, it has only 1,600 students, which he called "a pittance." By comparison, New York's online college has about 30,000 students, he said. Gray said Connecticut's school has the potential to reach a similar enrollment figure in a decade, especially if students at other schools could take online classes at Charter Oak, as well.
"The potential in Charter Oak is yet to be tapped at all," he said.
The final blueprint for ConnSCU will also include a long-term plan for overall logistics and efficiencies, such as a single academic calendar and a single student application instead of 17. Also, Gray said there's a commitment to make it easier for students who complete their two years of community college work to transfer to the state universities as a full-fledged junior and earn a bachelor's degree.
"These things start to merge us into a true system," he said, "instead of 17 institutions."