Community colleges move the people and can move the state

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The Poet's Circle at NVCC

I am not forgetting about or unsympathetic to the state’s demanding financial situation and the complex challenges of addressing the projected shortfalls in the next biennial budget. At Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC), we know about increasing pressures to meet the needs of our constituencies while available funds keep decreasing. I say proudly that NVCC has remained in the black during each of the past nine years.

We’ve trimmed administrative budgets, shaved purchases to only essentials, left positions unfilled, renegotiated required contracts, deferred maintenance, and postponed some new or expanded programs. I know we mirror these interventions among other state colleges, universities, and agencies. NVCC will not place itself in the red intentionally.

Yet, if we cut deeper, we may need to cut back on programs and services for those who need them the most—the people who depend on us for improved quality of life and for job training, both which enable them to contribute to Connecticut’s economy.

If you move the people, you move the state. We knew this when we were instrumental in the addition of evening bus service in Waterbury five years ago.  This idea can be part of a larger address of our fiscal plight. Community colleges have moved the people and NVCC has the record to prove its value.

Recent reports from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) found that “Higher educational attainment leads to increased earnings and lowers the likelihood of unemployment.” At its May 25 commencement — and for the sixth year in a row– NVCC awarded more than 1,000 associate degrees and certificates. We’ve also known for years that median family income increases with more education.

AACC says “Paying to attend college is a significant challenge for low-income families, which can cost half their annual income.” Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced that NVCC is among the top 25 community colleges nationwide that advance opportunities for low-income students, as ranked among 1,108 community colleges for our effectiveness with high outcomes in serving these students. NVCC was designated a Hispanic Serving Institution, a recognition that makes us even more eligible for grants. Last year, we disbursed over $14 million in federal, state, and private student financial aid. We are driven toward widening educational access.

We are committed to the relationship between learning and earning. Employers count on us for education and training programs that prepare skilled workers for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs. Our workforce mission is grounded in quality academic programs which respond to community needs in health care, social services, criminal justice, child care, sciences, and the arts, to name a few. Our Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center places all its completers into jobs.

The results of this comprehensive approach to address community, regional, and national needs has prompted other states to support community colleges in numerous ways. They have increased scholarship aid, funded critical services, partnered on grants, and even offered free tuition to eligible families.

These states have recognized that to move the state, they have to move the people. Their progress toward workforce goals and economic development is tied to a committed, positioned, and effective community college. Connecticut’s growth and future are benefiting from the same community college connections.

Our return on investment pays three beneficiaries: students, society, and taxpayers. Increased earnings and higher future wages benefit students. Society benefits from the correlation between education and improved quality of life, particularly in better health, less crime, and reduced unemployment. Taxpayers benefit from added tax revenue and savings from reduced public funding for health, crime, and unemployment. Community colleges and NVCC add value that should be sustained, not diminished.

It is clear that moving the people can move the state.

Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D., is President of Naugatuck Valley Community College which has campuses in Waterbury and Danbury.

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