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Tunxis Waits on Union Negotiations as It Answers Increasing Demand

School faces manageable cuts if state employees agree to deal, $1.8 million loss if they don't.

Though the state bonding commission recently at , the school has a more immediate need — to know how much funding it will have for the fall semester, which begins in a few weeks.

“Like every other state agency we are in a state of suspended animation because of the uncertainty of the agreement with state employee bargaining units,” said Tunxis President Cathryn Addy.

The college faces budget cuts if the agreement passes as proposed, but the numbers would still be workable, according to Addy. If unions vote down the agreement for a second time and Gov. Dannel Malloy turns to an alternate plan to balance the state budget, the result would be different.

“If it fails, we’re looking at losing $1.8 million of state appropriations, which will make it absolutely impossible to operate at the same level.”

Those changes could mean fewer classes at a time when enrollment has exploded. That, too, is due to the economy, Addy said, with many students fresh out of high school choosing to take the less expensive route of two years at Tunxis, then transferring to a four-year institution.

“It’s much more cost-effective to start here and transfer. We have students going all over the place — Wesleyan, St. Joseph’s, as well as the state schools,” she said.

In the summer the campus is flooded with students home from school who want to get ahead at a reduced cost.

“It’s worth it just for the money that can be saved.”

In addition to traditional students, the weak economy has inspired many to return to school for further education or retraining. Tunxis offers training in a number of medical, dental and technical fields to help students prepare for a career and is adding new programs every year. The college in the Registered Medical Assistant program July 28.

Meeting the need of local businesses is something Tunxis has always aimed to do, Addy said, and students are looking for education that will lead directly to jobs. With space tight at the Farmington campus, Tunxis instructors lead many classes either at an employer site or at the school’s Bristol campus, which focuses on workforce development training.

The school’s impact in Bristol and neighboring towns is unavoidable, said Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce President Michael Nicastro.

“We see a lot of resumes come through with Tunxis on there … and you can tell by their ever-increasing popularity that they’re probably having a bigger influence than people understand,” he said.

House Speaker Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) at a Norwalk Community College event in March called the state’s community colleges “the front line of job creation,” and a 2008 study on the economic contribution of Connecticut’s community colleges calculates $5 billion invested in the Connecticut economy through school, faculty and student spending and the increased productivity of past community college students.

Still, Nicastro said, there is room in the region for more training. Manufacturing jobs go unfilled in the area because few workers are trained to perform the jobs.

“Our small to midsize manufacturers are struggling to find the skilled workers they need … there was a time when manufacturing had gone downhill; people shied away from it a lot and the shops either closed up or moved south, so now those that are here, coming back and experiencing growth, don’t have a pool to choose from,’ he said.

“At the chamber, we’re still ground zero for manufacturing,” Nicastro said. “We hear it everyday: ‘Look, we need the skilled people. Get that message to the school boards.’”

The demand to provide young students with a springboard to a four-year degree has consumed much of the school’s energy and classroom space, Addy said, but Tunxis is considering the need.

“We’re looking for other options with things we might start to do in the New Britain area,” Addy said. “We’re trying to be very responsible to businesses who need a certain kind of skilled worker.”

In the meantime, the college is looking to maintain the services it has been providing. Addy’s advice to students: register early.

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