The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, a partially state-funded organization that helps institutions with technology initiatives, including online education, plans to shut down after 20 years.
The state’s higher education system has struggled in recent years with enrollment challenges and budget shortages. A messy 2011 merger of more than 15 institutions did not solve the twin problems of curtailed state spending and declining enrollments. Most recently, a New England accreditor rejected a plan to merge the state's 12 community colleges into one statewide institution.
In this climate, continuing the consortium -- a division of the online Charter Oak State College -- appears untenable, said Ed Klonoski, president of the college.
“The current economic landscape makes it tough to achieve sufficient profitability to make the investments in technology and talent that their service set requires,” Klonoski said in an interview. “The college will work diligently to persist several of their key programs and offer those [programs] that will end sufficient time to make alternative arrangements.”
The timing of the closure and the details of which programs will remain were unclear at the time of publication.
The organization generated most of its revenue from services including learning management system hosting, instructional design support, web integration, grant management and strategic consulting. Though it began serving primarily higher education institutions, its purview expanded over the years to K-12 schools and work-force agencies.
“I couldn’t be prouder of its many successes,” Klonoski said.
The consortium distinguished itself among similar organizations of its kind, according to Russ Poulin, director of policy and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technologies. He worries that the state's institutions will lose money from having to bring the organization's services in house.
Alternatively, he said, a new organization might spring up in its place, as when the similarly situated University of Texas TeleCampus dissolved in 2012 and subsequently transformed into the UT Online Consortium. That scenario could end up being more costly for Connecticut than the current consortium, Poulin predicts.
"If this is being done as a cost-cutting move, then their accountants need to double-check their spreadsheets," Poulin said via email.
In a 2010 opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed about the closure of the University of Texas TeleCampus, Poulin summed up the successes of the Connecticut consortium -- and the challenges it and others like it would eventually face.
“The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium embraces an entrepreneurial spirit by developing e-portfolio and online tutoring services that have expanded well beyond state borders,” Poulin wrote. “If a consortium does not meet the evolutionary challenge, it should dissolve.” (Update: This quote reflects Poulin’s reservations in 2010 about other consortia outside Connecticut. It does not suggest that he believed then or now that the Connecticut consortium ought to have closed.)