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.
Attending a college is something most of us dream about as teenagers. We look forward to becoming doctors, police officers, artists, nurses, etc. When the time comes to enroll in a college, the last thing on our minds is the price and how much it’ll all cost in the end. All we are excited for is this new journey and becoming young adults.
When I first started college in the fall of 2012 at Central Connecticut State University, financial aid covered my yearly tuition in its entirety. Today, however, five years later, I maxed out of the money I can borrow from financial aid, and now all my stress comes from figuring out how to pay for college.
I woke up recently to the headline that the governor of Nevada had signed into law the Nevada Promise Scholarship which would provide tuition-free community college to eligible students. Thus Nevada joins Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee in providing increased access to higher education for low income students through a robust community college system. Connecticut has taken the opposite route. Instead of looking at ways to increase access, the solution that is being proposed is dismantling the community college system by centralizing and creating a hierarchy with one president overseeing 12 colleges.
Government funding for underprivileged students to attend college is not an effective way to close the education gap because it does not address the core problem, which is that many low-income students never make it to graduation in the first place. The government should be providing students with the resources they need in order to graduate from high school and be successful when they go to college, instead of providing a donation toward a college fund for students who made it to graduation.
I recently had the honor of speaking at an event to support the Student Crisis Fund at Charter Oak State College, my alma mater. This is a fund that helps students – and their education – survive unexpected financial challenges, from broken computers to dental emergencies. For many students, these $100 – $1,000 problems can stop an academic career dead in its tracks. And yet, colleges and universities – ours included – raise tuition and fees by easily the amount of the average withdrawal from the Student Crisis Fund. For too many students, these increases themselves create a widespread financial crisis every year.
In times of open hostility, from the President of the United States, trickling down to our institutions and communities toward immigrants and people of color, we find it outrageous that the Connecticut General Assembly has refused to respond to the demands of the people for peace and equity and to pass legislation that would benefit our immigrant community.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, wrote more than a century ago about “the sickness that is not until death.” He did so in an essay about despair, loss, and fear. Notwithstanding the gloomy topic, Kierkegaard was an optimist. The sickness about which he wrote, after all, is “not until death.” The sickness until death, he wrote, would be a deeper sickness—the one that comes from the separation of one’s soul from the spiritual core that is deepest part of one’s being. Welcome to the world of Connecticut higher education, college and university-style, circa 2017.
The degree to which college students are capable of successfully moving from matriculation to graduation, described as “retention” or “persistence,” should be a concern for all of us. Employers regularly complain that the skills needed for the workplace are lacking. Policy wonks lament the declining ratio of productive workers to retirees, now about three to one, down drastically from decades ago – an ominous threat to the solvency of the Social Security system, as well as the viability of the economy and the health care system.
President Ojakian: on issues like this, like crafting a budget, a process you know very well, negotiation must take place. You have excluded the faculty and most administrators who could have provided knowledge, expertise, and support. That was not very smart. Yes, Connecticut needs to balance its budget, but not at the expense of the already underfunded, and therefore undervalued CSCU system. Mr. Ojakian, the Board of Regents needs to reign you in and slow you down.
The students in Willimantic have none of the privileges I had. The Willimantic Center of Quinebaug Valley Community College is one of their best options for escaping poverty. If the 365 students who currently attend that center do not have access in Willimantic, they will not attend college or benefit from the technical training that is offered there. They will be consigned to a life of minimum wage jobs and no way out. As a taxpayer, professor emerita from CCSU and an engaged citizen, I encourage you to rethink the entire funding system of CSCU.
As our governor and state legislators continue wrestling with budget shortfalls, declining revenue, corporate exodus and ongoing economic erosion, it is important to pause and catch our breaths. As a state, we must carefully and honestly examine our strengths and weaknesses, and ensure perspective before making serious cuts to financial programs and institutions that actually hold the answer for addressing many of Connecticut’s financial woes.
I am alarmed and shocked by the recent “Students First” proposal by the Board of Regents, which proposes to dismantle Connecticut’s community college system. This proposal is likely to go down in history as a paradigmatic case of bad management and the worst kind of public policy. It’s almost breathtaking how poorly this idea has been thought through and executed.