A May 11 editorial from Hearst Connecticut Media:
The word “college” should be synonymous with deeper thinking.
Yet the recent discourse at the Connecticut’s highest levels about the future of state colleges and universities has been sounding more like a fourth-grade playground tussle.
Lost in the conversation, as usual, is the future of the students. Imagine being a high school student weighing options, or a current college student trying to sort out whether they’ll be able to pay the bills come September. There are only four weeks left in the session to determine how much the 17 programs (2-year community colleges, 4-year regional public universities and online courses) will get in state funding. Four weeks during which the fate of Connecticut’s colleges will be competing with countless other causes.
It’s a predictable script. Lawmakers will settle on a figure that administrators at the colleges will have to live with. Tuition hikes are inevitable. For some students, that will be enough to drop out. Colleges struggling to boost enrollment take more hits. And the heartless cycle will continue to slam a lot of first-generation college students.
Connecticut, as it has a steady habit of doing with its own image, is sabotaging a reputation as a state with a range of college opportunities for students. Given that some 95% of students in our state colleges are from Connecticut, it is also targeting its own future workforce.
This is too important to cram into the workload of lawmakers over a few weeks that also happen to dovetail with the end of the school year. It merits a special session to hash out how the state will support its own colleges, its own students, its own workforce, for the next generation.
At the core of the divide is that the Office of Policy and Management says the colleges are asking to continue elevated funding that was added to their budgets during the pandemic, when tuition revenue dropped.
The colleges, meanwhile, say the state negotiated union contracts for its workforce without providing the funding to pay for it.
You can choose to take sides, but it wouldn’t really matter. The state and the colleges have common stakeholders — the students. And the students are left confused. Will classrooms be larger next semester? Will favorite teachers depart? Will programs be cut?
And there are a lot of those stakeholders. About 85,000, plus their families.
These Connecticut colleges have been battling cuts and consolidation for the better part of the last decade. The governor’s office wants a more sustainable system. Terrence Cheng, who has had oversight of the colleges for the past two years, says enrollment is starting to stabilize.
As any student knows, fighting for survival is not the same as striving for success. And agreeing on the terms of a reduced budget is not the same as planning future innovations, let alone addressing infrastructure that will only erode under financial pressures.
If Connecticut is going to burnish a reputation for hosting colleges that are aspirational, its leaders need to remind themselves of what colleges represent. They need to get back to basics. They need to re-imagine. They need to balance life’s realities with its possibilities.
In short, they need to become students again.