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Transforming Connecticut Higher Education: An Agenda for Excellence into the 21st Century
April 2, 1998

Report of the Public Agenda Advisory Council


As the 21st century nears, Connecticut higher education needs to get smart.

Being smart means putting students first, achieving excellence using rigorous standards of performance, making efficiency the driving force in resource management.

Being smart in an age of rapid technological change and economic globalization requires a transformation in the way Connecticut higher education conducts its business and serves it customers the students, employers and taxpayers of this great state. We, the Public Agenda Advisory Council to the Board of Governors for Higher Education, believe the time for that transformation is now.

Our purpose, as entrusted to us last December by the Board of Governors, is to help define an agenda for shaping a higher education system responsive to the needs of the 21st century. Over the past 90 days, we have engaged in a serious deliberation of key issues, aided by formal presentations from leading academic experts, system chancellors and college presidents. On the basis of this work, we offer this Agenda for Excellence to assist the Board of Governors in leading Connecticut higher education into the 21st century.

Our Vision for Connecticut Higher Education

We believe the best way to predict the future is to create it, guided by a clear vision and broadly-endorsed strategic plan. Our vision of Connecticut higher education in the coming years requires the system to challenge historical paradigms. Our vision encompasses:

Excellence (our top priority): The entire higher education system (see Appendix for system description) is committed to a level of excellence that is manifestly apparent to its customers. Clear competency standards and measurable benchmarks of excellence are employed through the system for use in comparing performance to peer institutions and in evaluating success in meeting consumer needs.

Responsiveness and flexibility: Our colleges and universities quickly adapt and develop programs and services to meet rapidly changing customer demands and expectations and have the resources to do so. The regulatory processes of the Board of Governors and the Department of Higher Education protect consumer interests while allowing for necessary institutional flexibility.

Balanced educational experience: No matter their field of concentration or type of degree, Connecticut college graduates possess the blend of technical, vocational and critical thinking skills needed for productive lives and careers, and demanded by Connecticut employers.

Reducing disparities: The State of Connecticut recognizes that economic disparities often impede the educational attainment of its people, promotes greater access to quality higher education as a matter of policy, and actively supports higher education as an indispensible element of Connecticut’s economic development.

Investment: Connecticut’s people value the resources committed to higher education as a desirable investment, not merely a necessary cost. At the same time, higher education builds public esteem by achieving and documenting an attractive "return on investment" that satisfies investors’ concerns and consumer needs.

Efficiency: Given constrained public resources, our systems and institutions maximize efficiency, avoid waste and implement customer value management across all parts of the academic enterprise, from administrative functions to program offerings.

Collaboration and cooperation: Effective strategic alliances exist within the higher education community, and between higher education and elementary/secondary education, business, policy leaders, elected officials and alumni which work to promote efficiency, sustain excellence and meet rapidly changing consumer demands.

A Landscape of Rapid Change and Opportunity

In our discussions, we spent much time considering the sheer force and rapid pace of change sweeping across Connecticut’s system of higher education today. Recent breakthroughs in information technology, coupled with a growing demand for people skilled at problem-solving, decision-making and working in teams are bringing about a paradigm shift in the ways we communicate, teach and learn. These changes have far-reaching implications for the structure and methodologies of higher education. The current landscape of rapid change presents a unique opportunity for higher education to transform itself to better meet the needs and expectations of its customers.

Given Connecticut’s relatively strong economy and stable outlook for college enrollment, our public and independent colleges have a rare moment of time to reconsider what they do, the services they offer and how best to offer them. Our underlying concern is to insure that academic services and programs appropriately match the educational needs of our citizens, communities and economy. To do so requires "smart" incentives and approaches.

Connecticut is known as one of the nation’s wealthiest states due to the high average income of its residents. Unfortunately, average income masks the poverty and deprivation which plagues our cities in contrast to the affluence and luxury of more privileged parts of the state. Connecticut needs a system of higher education which serves well all of its citizenry. At one and the same time, Connecticut higher education must stretch up for excellence and reach out to those whose access is limited by poor academic preparation and constrained financial resources.

Compounding this challenge is the common perception that Connecticut higher education does not uniformly meet our highest expectations. Connecticut's "system of systems" has grown up over time without a general plan and without a clear sense of purpose shared by citizens, politicians and business leaders. Thus, while institutions individually have sought to make their educational services more effective and efficient, the perception continues that, taken as a whole, neither the quality nor the operations of Connecticut's higher education system meet the state's needs.

For example, businesses and employers have unmet needs for well-educated employees who can bring to the workplace a rich mixture of technical competence, critical thinking skills and the enthusiasm and capacity for lifelong learning. More specifically, throughout Connecticut there is an increasingly severe shortage of computer specialists and other highly trained technicians. Too often we have had to rely on individuals educated outside our borders to provide a substantial number of the educated citizens that have driven our economy and achieved our comfortable lifestyles.

Connecticut's challenge is to meet these needs for educated workers with a limited number of home-grown high school graduates and through the ongoing education of adults — both those currently in the workforce and those who choose to enter the workforce later in life. Adult learners make special service demands on institutions of higher education. And, increasingly, these adults will be a major component of higher education's student body.

Now is the time for transforming higher education to better prepare Connecticut’s people to meet the challenges of the coming century. These changes can be effected in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels — within individual institutions and systems, and across the system as a whole — in other words, from the bottom-up as well as from the top-down.

The Mission of Connecticut Higher Education

In the course of our deliberations, we focused on three areas of the Board’s statutory mission:

  • To educate students to participate effectively in the social, economic and political communities in which they live;
  • To prepare and/or retrain Connecticut residents and others to gain and keep meaningful jobs, adding to the state’s workforce; and
  • To keep higher education accessible and affordable for Connecticut citizens.

Agenda for Excellence

The driving force for change must be the attainment of demonstrated excellence in all aspects of Connecticut higher education. In practical terms this translates into an efficient system of higher education that is competency-based, focused on achieving established standards and outcomes, and responsive to consumers. A practical commitment to excellence can lead to improved performance and quality across the system — within administrative functions, and by faculty and students. As a matter of policy, we recommend that any state investment in higher education must be tied to performance outcomes.

I. System Structure and Integrity

State resources for higher education are likely to remain constant and allocated based on political pressures and on public perceptions of performance, quality and efficiency. Competition among higher education providers — traditional and non-traditional — will likely expand dramatically as consumer markets and delivery systems change. Institutions of higher education will need to move far more quickly and effectively to meet changing consumer needs. They will need to vigorously promote their records of performance to win a larger share of precious public resources. In light of these circumstances, the system and its institutions must differentiate their respective areas of expertise.

We, therefore, recommend that:

  1. The Board of Governors should assist each of the public systems to develop a distinctive mission and consolidate duplicative operations to achieve greater efficiency and cost optimization.
  2. The Board of Governors, working with system leaders, should seriously consider consolidating selected campuses and programs of the University of Connecticut (excluding its Health Center, Law School, School of Social Work, and Avery Point and CITI/Stamford campuses) with the Connecticut State University and/or Community-Technical College systems, allowing UConn to focus on its strengths as a premier research institution while eliminating costly duplication across the system.
  3. The legislature should maintain funds to help Connecticut students attend in-state independent colleges and universities. Additional financial support for these institutions should be provided only as dictated by strategic state needs. Vigorous intellectual, results-oriented competition between the publics and independents should be encouraged.
  4. Connecticut institutions of higher education should establish formal liaisons among themselves and with all peer institutions across New England, promoting coordination and collaboration to assure students the best possible education options. Such cooperation should include shared access to courses and facilities, but not for the purpose of discouraging appropriate competition.

II. Economic Development

Compared to other states, higher education in Connecticut is not used particularly well as a strategic resource to promote economic growth. Further, while generally supportive, employers express significant dissatisfaction with higher education’s ability to meet broad workforce development concerns.

There is growing need for institutions of higher education to establish more collaborative relationships with the business community around issues of common concern. Likewise, there is an urgent need for the State of Connecticut to support economic development by promoting worker education and by fostering new knowledge and research opportunities. Higher education should be part of a key state investment strategy to grow and retain business, and to recruit and keep talented people within our borders.

At the same time, higher education has a larger role extending beyond the specific concerns of the workplace. In an era of globalization and increasing cultural diversity, higher education must address issues of citizenship, civility and responsibility in the larger society.

To address these concerns, we propose that:

  1. Individual institutions as well as systems of higher education must establish effective, high-level advisory boards representing employer concerns for better linkages with industry and citizens. Existing efforts should be strengthened.
  2. State funds must support targeted customized training programs tied to specific economic development priorities, and collaborative efforts between higher education institutions and local training organizations.
  3. The State of Connecticut must strategically upgrade the facilities and technological resources of Connecticut State University, the Community-Technical Colleges and Charter Oak State College, and also consider shared utilization options.
  4. The State of Connecticut must invest strategically in research and learning at the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and the Community-Technical Colleges to promote common economic development goals.
  5. The Board of Governors should employ Centers of Excellence (see #22 on page 7) to identify those areas of distinction on campus for strategic investment.

III. Learning and Technology

Information technology already is revolutionizing higher education — changing learning, instruction, performance measurement, administration, organizational structure, costs, etc. One anticipated result will be a burgeoning demand for distance learning opportunities. Demand could increase exponentially, creating significant opportunities to attract students from throughout the nation and around the world to Connecticut higher education’s offerings. Given the impact of technology, any expenditure of capital funds affecting the physical capacity of the system should consider the implications presented by distance learning.

To address the challenges presented by technology, we urge that:

  1. The State of Connecticut establish a coordinated, cost-effective approach to distance learning that cuts across all institutions of higher education in Connecticut.
  2. The Board of Governors convene a regional summit to discuss creating a multi-state Virtual University, allowing students to learn whenever and wherever they wish, modeled on the country’s best practices. At a minimum, the State of Connecticut should launch its own virtual program. In addition, the Board of Governors should explore creating a virtual library in Connecticut similar to those in Georgia and Florida.
  3. Charter Oak State College be allowed to grant graduate-level degrees and training certificates in light of its growing role as broker for collaborative distance learning.

IV. Access and Opportunity: The Education Continuum

Connecticut’s higher education institutions, especially its Community-Technical Colleges, are beset by the growing remediation needs of both recent high school graduates and older students returning to school. Higher education must become more involved with elementary/secondary education to elevate student preparedness and to assist with enrichment activities for high achievers. At the same time, the State of Connecticut must develop immediate and long-term strategies to keep higher education accessible in light of public concerns about affordability.

To further these goals, we suggest that:

  1. Higher education and elementary/secondary education forge closer alliances to reduce the need for college-level remediation and to improve student achievement. Formal linkages must be created across the education spectrum, from primary grades to graduate school.
  2. The State Departments of Education and Higher Education undertake a comprehensive study of remediation in Connecticut to determine its true costs and propose alternative ways of assuring student readiness for college.
  3. Higher education assist in developing effective annual career and transition guidance to all students beginning no later than middle school, consistent with the recommendations of the "Connecticut Learns" school-to-career initiative, and continuing into post-secondary education.
  4. Public higher education institutions implement admissions and transfer strategies that are competency-based and seamless in permitting students to take courses for which they qualify at any campus.
  5. The Board of Governors urges the legislature to sufficiently support financial aid programs to ensure access and affordability for all qualified residents, and lessen reliance on student loans.
  6. Public higher education should link tuition and fee charges to key economic indicators and institutional performance.

V. Education Assessment and System Performance

  1. Each public system, with oversight by the Board of Governors, should identify competencies and quality standards applicable to its mission to assess institutional performance.
  2. Each public system, with oversight by the Board of Governors, should implement a competency-based system of instruction, requiring each student to demonstrate mastery of appropriate knowledge and skills (whether in the liberal arts, science or technology), to assess student performance.
  3. Each public system, with oversight by the Board of Governors, should create additional alternative contractual arrangements for its faculty using periodic, competency-based performance measures. Teaching Centers should be established where faculty and administrators can upgrade their skills, consistent with competency-based standards. Meaningful incentives should be developed to encourage faculty and staff to participate in professional development opportunities.
  4. The Board of Governors should employ Centers of Excellence to identify areas of distinction on campus for strategic investment. Such Centers would exhibit demonstrable quality comparable with the best in similar institutions around the country and, where appropriate, address workforce needs. These Centers must be promoted and rewarded for their performance and innovation.

VI. Board Leadership and Alliances

The State of Connecticut must develop and embrace a system of higher education whose excellence and performance compare favorably with any across the nation. The Board of Governors must reassert its leadership in achieving this status. In addition, the key interests represented on this Advisory Council — the business community, institutions of higher education and state government — must fully support and aggressively promote the ideas contained in this agenda.

It is equally essential for the higher education community to pursue strategic alliances with powerful advocates on its behalf. Alliances with the larger constituencies of business, government and localities are vital to building support for the entire higher education system.

Accordingly, we call upon the Board of Governors to:

  1. Encourage support for Connecticut’s higher education system as an investment in the future. Alumni, who have reaped the benefits of an education, should support the institutions from which they hold degrees as in other states where substantial giving and endowment programs lessen dependence on public dollars. Businesses, which benefit from a well-educated workforce, should participate in major endowment programs for scholarship and major teaching emphases.
  2. Build public/private partnerships with other state and regional agencies and businesses to assist in creating Centers of Excellence, reviewing competency guidelines and building political support for the system.
  3. Broaden involvement by leadership from higher education, the business community, state government, labor, students themselves and other key interests to carry forward this agenda, assess the performance of higher education in meeting state needs and gain the financial support for a higher education system that truly meets the needs of Connecticut’s employers for a world-class workforce.

Finally, the Board of Governors should reconvene this Public Agenda Advisory Council within two years to review progress in implementing this Agenda for Excellence and recommend adjustments as warranted by changing circumstances.

We believe this agenda is eminently feasible and necessary for Connecticut higher education to enter the 21st century "smart" — with a strong student focus, proven record of excellence and an efficient employment of resources.

We expect action.


The Connecticut Higher Education System

Connecticut higher education is comprised of a "system of systems" consisting of:

  • the University of Connecticut, a research university with 5 regional campuses and a Health Center which provide an array of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs.
  • the Connecticut State University, a system of four geographically dispersed comprehensive universities, which offer bachelor degree programs, selected graduate degrees and career advancement.
  • the Community-Technical Colleges, a system of 12 comprehensive, geographically dispersed colleges, which offer certificate and associate degrees and training programs, tailored to employer and community needs.
  • Charter Oak State College, an alternate avenue for adults seeking an associate or a bachelor degree through courses at local institutions or via distance learning, testing, portfolio review and independent study.

Complementing these four public systems is a diverse group of 26 nationally and regionally recognized two- and four-year independent colleges and universities.

The Board of Governors for Higher Education provides policy oversight and coordination for this system. The Department of Higher Education performs the Board’s administrative tasks.

In 1997-98, the combined operating budgets of Connecticut’s public and independent higher education institutions totaled $3 billion, including $445 million in state funds (fringe benefit and capital project expenditures are excluded). Connecticut’s public and independent institutions of higher education in 1997-98 enroll some 154,000 students and grant 28,800 degrees. The state’s independent colleges enroll 38 percent of Connecticut resident undergraduates and grant about half of the degrees awarded each year.

Public Agenda Advisory Council

Harry H. Penner, Chair
President & CEO
Neurogen, Inc.
Bruce H. Leslie
Community-Technical Colleges of Connecticut
Philip E. Austin
University of Connecticut
Michael P. Meotti
Connecticut Policy and Economic Council
Anthony J. Cernera
Sacred Heart University
Lewis A. Miller
Intermedica, Inc.
William J. Cibes
Connecticut State University
William J. Morgan
Managing Partner
KPMG Peat Marwick, LLP
Kenneth O. Decko
Connecticut Business & Industry Association
James Newman
Standing Advisory Committee to the
Board of Governors for Higher Education
Brian J. Flaherty
Deputy Minority Leader
House of Representatives
Theodore S. Sergi
Commissioner of Education
Thomas P. Gaffey
Education Committee
Alice V. Meyer
Board of Governors for Higher Education
Merle W. Harris
Charter Oak State College
Andrew G. De Rocco
Commissioner of Higher Education
Michael W. Kozlowski
(Kathleen S. Guay, designee)
Office of Policy and Management


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