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The New England Association of Schools & Colleges, the accrediting agency for the Connecticut State College and University system, rejected a proposal Tuesday that would have merged the state's 12 community colleges.

"While the Commission appreciates the considerable work done already to develop a proposal that addressed both the significant financial challenges faced by the 12 community colleges and the importance of improving student success, the Commission was not persuaded that planning for the new Community College of Connecticut as outlined in the … report is realistic," said a letter sent by the commission to CSCU president Mark Ojakian.

The commission found that the proposed Community College of Connecticut would be a new institution and not a "substantive change" to the system. That means the merged colleges would have to become candidates for accreditation -- a process that could take up to five years.

Ojakian's proposal to merge the colleges was expected to keep all of the campuses open and maintain tuition rates.

"It is not the decision that is best for our students, nor is it the decision for which we had hoped," Ojakian said, in reference to NEASC's response, in a statement he released jointly with Matt Fleury, chairman of the Connecticut Board of Regents. "In the face of an ongoing fiscal emergency, it forces us to consider options that we have strongly fought against because it will harm the 50,000 students who rely on their campuses and their campus communities."

Ojakian said officials in the system did not expect this response from NEASC.

"The problems that our institutions and students face cannot wait five years," he said. "In five years, our institutions will be financially insolvent."