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As new CEO of community college system, Maduko to oversee major consolidation plan, attempt to reverse declining enrollment

Most new CEOs aren’t brought into an organization in the middle of a major merger.

But that’s the case with John Maduko, who in April was named the state’s first-ever CEO of the Connecticut State Community College system, which is in the process of merging its 12 schools amid declining student enrollment and financial challenges, and some rancor from labor unions that represent professors and other staff displeased by the consolidation.

Maduko, a former medical doctor who most recently worked for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said a key reason he was hired was to oversee a five-year merger plan that is scheduled to be completed in July 2023.

He’s also head of an organization that is seen as key in helping stem Connecticut’s long-term workforce shortages as more emphasis is placed on getting students trained in in-demand jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.

“(The pending merger) is one significant aspect of why I was brought on,” said the 41-year-old Los Angeles native, who recently sat down with the Hartford Business Journal to discuss his new role and plans for the community college system. “The merger is important, but beyond the merger we must make our students successful.”

Consolidation progress

The pending merger is now, potentially, less than a year away from its completion. The community college system has to submit three status update reports to its accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education, before it can be completed.

Maduko said the first report was submitted Sept. 1, with the others due in February and June 2023.

The merger’s goal, Maduko said, will be to create cost savings to ensure the community college system is financially sustainable long term, and sink savings into programs that improve the student experience and graduation rates.

Maduko, who makes a $300,000 annual salary, runs a system with about 2,500 full-time, part-time and temporary faculty and staff, and with an unrestricted budget of about $609 million, the majority of which comes from state appropriations.

It’s currently running a $4 million deficit.

Maduko said it’s too early to say how much cost savings will be derived from the consolidation, but it will come from eliminating redundancies and areas of inefficiencies and renegotiating vendor contracts.

Under the plan, all 12 community college campuses will remain, but management will be centralized.

A key step in the process was achieved in June when the Board of Regents approved a curriculum alignment across the 12 colleges. That means each campus will offer a similar curriculum, making it easier for students to go from one school to another.

Though he’s only held the corner office for a few months, Maduko has already made one significant move, announcing in August that he’s scrapping the regional president model he inherited and reassigning those leaders to new systemwide executive roles.

The three regional presidents – Thomas Coley, James Lombella and Rob Steinmetz – will become executive vice presidents of functional areas within the entire community college system.

“I think having clearly defined leadership roles and responsibilities in terms of who reports to me and what these talented individuals are overseeing for the entire college system, was important,” he said. “I felt like I did not want to wait six months or a year; I wanted to set the tone now. I wanted to communicate a message to everyone — students and faculty — that we are here to serve them and there can’t be any confusion at the senior level.”

One of his focus areas is shoring up enrollment, which experienced a 17.4% decline last spring, the largest drop off in the nation, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data.

In spring 2021, 33,571 students were enrolled at a public, two-year community college in Connecticut, down from 40,643 students a year earlier and 43,206 students in the spring of 2019.

Maduko said there were several factors driving the enrollment decline ranging from the fallout from the pandemic to the reality that many people decided to work over going to college.

Maduko said he hopes to bring those enrollment numbers up by better marketing the institution; providing a broader curriculum with more of a focus on in-demand health care, manufacturing and IT training; and working closely with Terrence Cheng, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, which oversees the state’s 12 community colleges, four state universities and Charter Oak State College.

Chris DiPentima, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said his organization has and will continue to work closely with the community college system, noting there is an immediate need to grow healthcare programs.

“Clearly, health care is first and foremost of major importance to the state’s economy,” DiPentima said. “Therefore, the healthcare curriculum is critical and must continue to be taught at the community college level. Hopefully, that will attract more people to want to enter the healthcare field and stay here in Connecticut to do so.”

Union relations

While he’s new in the job, Maduko said he expects to reach out to all stakeholders and have a cordial, fair and open relationship with the five unions that represent community college employees.

Maduko said past relationships with the unions have been “tense” but he hopes to work closely with all stakeholders “for the betterment of all.”

Calling the past relationships tense is an understatement, according to Dennis Bogusky, president since 1984 of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1942, which represents 624 full-time faculty within the community college system.

“There was a time, not too long ago, when they were hell-bent on gutting contracts and doing things that were just not positive,” Bogusky said. “During the pandemic, there was no recognition (by the administration) of the faculty and staff’s roles in keeping things moving and getting those students across the finish line.”

Bogusky said he does not expect to lose any union members because of the pending merger, but he has concerns with the plan.

“My biggest concern is that the actual campuses will completely lose their identity,” he said. “Whether it’s governance, curriculum or whatever, we’d like to have some level of autonomy.”

Bogusky said he likes what he’s heard about Maduko, noting: “I’m cautiously optimistic” that the new administration will be fair and transparent with the unions.

Maduko said he’s big on finding common ground and doing what’s best for students.

“I look forward to all partnerships with anyone; those who like me and those who may disagree with me,” he said.

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