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Aug 12, 2020

President Ojakian Announces Intention to Retire

CSCU President Mark Ojakian today announced his intention to retire effective January 1, 2021, after more than 40 years of public service in Connecticut

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian today announced his intention to retire effective January 1, 2021, after more than 40 years of public service in Connecticut. Over the past five years, he has served as chief executive for an organization responsible for 17 institutions of higher education, a $1.3 billion operating budget, 9,000 employees and over 100,000 students. In the role, he brought vision, stability and student-focused leadership to a system in transition amid a turbulent economic environment for higher education. 

“After more than 40 years in state government, it’s time for me to move on,” President Ojakian said. “I am proud of the accomplishments our team made over the past five years, with a relentless focus on making sure the students we serve have the tools necessary to succeed. It has been a tremendous honor to lead this organization, and while it is hard to say goodbye, I am confident that the team we have in place will continue to move important ongoing initiatives forward. The merger of the community colleges in particular is well on its way to completion, and will ultimately improve student success and equity measures while putting the community college on firm fiscal footing.” 

As a member of the Governor’s Workforce Council, among President Ojakian’s top priorities has been to ensure the public college and university system serves as a workforce development engine for the state of Connecticut. Under his leadership, the number of advanced manufacturing technology centers increased from four to eight, with particular emphasis on meeting the needs of regional employers. 

The Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR), which oversees CSCU, recognized President Ojakian for his critical role in advancing the system’s progress on all fronts, including student experiences, contribution to the economic needs and opportunities of students and employers, and a proactive and substantive agenda of social justice. 

“President Ojakian has been extraordinarily effective in leading Connecticut’s colleges and universities in the best interests of our students and our state,” said Matt Fleury, BOR Chair. “He has maintained a steadfast commitment to the Board’s vision for quality, affordable, equitable higher education by focusing on student success and the sustainability of these valued institutions.”

Chair Fleury also noted that the BOR will launch a national search to determine President Ojakian’s successor, and that an interim plan will be put in place until a permanent president is installed. The new president’s charge will be to ambitiously move forward the system’s priorities of top quality higher education and student-focused service, and accessibility and affordability through administrative efficiency, such as those embodied in the Students First initiative.

A main component of the Students First strategy is to improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students, who have long fallen behind their white peers in most key metrics. By adopting nationally proven best practices, Students First will narrow Connecticut’s chronic equity gap, which remains the largest in New England. Because of that commitment, the NAACP Statewide Convention in October endorsed Students First. In addition, CSCU is a partner with NAACP on the Million Jobs Campaign, which seeks to help one million formerly incarcerated individuals nationally, and 10,000 in Connecticut, find employment.

“It’s been an honor to partner with President Ojakian on programs and initiatives that helped Black and Brown students succeed in the classroom,” said Scot X. Esdaile, President of the NAACP Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors. “He has been an ally to the NAACP every step of the way, and he has become a personal friend of mine. I am sad to see him retire – though it is certainly well deserved. I will continue to work closely with the CSCU team on the efforts started under President Ojakian.”

Throughout his tenure at CSCU, President Ojakian has prioritized relationships with the students he serves, regularly attending Student Advisory Committee meetings and holding student conversations on every campus. 

“President Ojakian encouraged me to share my story and testify before the Appropriations Committee on the importance of public higher education,” said Jahmil Effend, a graduate of Central Connecticut State University. “Throughout my educational and professional journey, we have stayed in touch every step of the way. He has been a mentor to me, and I will always appreciate his unconditional support and guidance throughout my life. He believed in me, and saw my potential even when I did not recognize it. Not every system president would take the time to get to know students on a personal level, get to know their parents or care deeply about their success in life after graduation. He did. President Ojakian has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have envisioned and I wish him nothing but the best in whatever comes next.”

Under President Ojakian’s leadership, CSCU implemented the Transfer and Articulation Policy (TAP), which allows community colleges graduates to transfer seamlessly to the Connecticut State Universities. Connecticut was the first state to pass such a policy on a statewide basis. He also partnered with the Department of Transportation on the U-Pass program, which allows students unlimited access to public buses and trains within the state for a $20 per semester fee. 

“President Ojakian understands that the policies implemented by our colleges and universities have real life implications for our students,” said Sage Maier, a student at Central Connecticut State University and graduate of Tunxis Community College, and a former chair of the Student Advisory Committee. “From pushing for the U-Pass, to moving forward with Students First, he has been an ally for students, and the CSCU system is stronger because of his leadership. He has also worked to get to know students on a personal level and listen to their experiences, allowing those relationships to help guide his policy decisions.” 

President Ojakian has a long history as an ally of organized labor, including his receipt of the 2015 Connecticut Building Trades Political Achievement Award. 

“For decades, the working people of Connecticut have had a friend in Mark Ojakian,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “In his role as CSCU president, he has been a great partner in ensuring the next generation of workers have the training necessary to find a good union job here in Connecticut. While he is retiring from public service, I know Mark has a lot left to give, and I look forward to working with him in whatever his next chapter holds.” 

In his role as CSCU president, President Ojakian worked closely with public and private higher education leaders in Connecticut, serving as co-chair of the statewide Council of Presidents.

“Mark Ojakian served as president of CSCU with distinction – and it’s not an easy job,” said Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College and co-chair of the statewide Council of Presidents. “President Ojakian’s unique set of leadership skills helped move the system forward. He also understood the need to work cooperatively as private and public institutions to move the state forward. It has been my pleasure to work closely with him over the past five years, and I wish him the best.” 

“President Ojakian and his team listened to and valued the voice of faculty,” said Del Cummings, a retired professor of environmental science at Naugatuck Valley Community College and former chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the BOR. “In every action he took as president, the needs of students were at the forefront. He often talked about removing barriers to graduation, and he worked hard to do just that in everything from transportation to childcare. I thank him for his steadfast service to the students we serve.”  

Before his tenure at CSCU, President Ojakian served as chief of staff to Governor Dannel P. Malloy from 2012 to 2015, deputy secretary at the Office of Policy Management from 2011 to 2012, deputy state comptroller from 1994 to 2010, director of government relations for the Board of Governors for Higher Education from 1988 to 1994, and research analyst for the Office of Legislative Research from 1980 to 1988. He lives with his husband Jason Veretto in West Hartford. He has two children, Brandon and Kyle, and four grandchildren, Connor, Madison, Summer, and Jordan.