Connecticut’s budget needs to encourage more higher ed, not hamper it

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Connecticut is not getting the message sent by General Electric, Aetna and other corporations who have either left the state for greener pastures or are contemplating a move. GE pulled up stakes and relocated its corporate facilities from Fairfield to Boston, where it felt there was a far more robust “innovation pipeline,” a greater talent pool and stronger incubation opportunities. Aetna is also moving its corporate office, a bastion in Hartford for more than a century, to seek better opportunities in Manhattan.

In light of these losses, you would think we would be doing everything in our power to convince companies that Connecticut has the talent to support the needs of its employers by prioritizing funding for higher education and financial aid.

So it is mystifying to see budget proposals that recommend eliminating entirely financial aid for low-income Connecticut students attending Connecticut private colleges and phasing out the program entirely.

Connecticut needs more students interested in attending our colleges and universities, not fewer. We should be doing everything possible to make college affordable and accessible to residents, while aggressively recruiting out-of-state students, their families, faculty and the millions of dollars and stability they bring to our economy.

Our colleges and universities are doing their part, offering coveted degree programs in high-demand vocations such as bioscience, technology, health care, IT and data security, engineering and business, as well as work-study and training programs that will change students’ lives and ensure a positive future can be realized within our borders.

Connecticut’s institutions of higher education are the state’s crown jewels. Colleges and universities are powerful magnets for local economies, and they offer a wide variety of other attractive benefits including access to music, theater and the arts, athletics, entertainment and educational forums open to the public. Institutions of higher learning are major employers themselves and provide a multitude of collaborative opportunities for other employers looking to capitalize on the many areas of expertise and incubation found on or offered through our campuses.

As other states reaffirm their commitment to providing access to higher education for their residents through innovative programs and funding, Connecticut again is neglecting one of the critical engines that help keep our economy humming – our colleges and universities. That is in addition to the thousands of workers we employ, and the millions of dollars pumped into local and state coffers through the purchase of goods and services, rent, real estate and much more.

We all know tax revenues are down, the state is facing a budget deficit and tough decisions must be made. But trimming fat is different from cutting out muscle. We can make compromises and live without many items and services, but we cannot afford to eliminate funding for scholarships and financial aid that help ensure that our young people will remain in Connecticut after high school, attend local colleges and universities, and then – blessed with robust business and manufacturing sectors – seek their fortunes here after they graduate.

Dr. John J. Petillo is president of Sacred Heart University and chair of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC).

What do you think?

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