Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed transfer of the state’s vocational-technical schools, combined with criticism in recent years of the management and operation of the vo-tech system, has slowed applications to the 16 schools, education officials said this week.

“We have noticed that falloff,” Superintendent Patricia Ciccone told the State Board of Education in explaining a 10 percent drop in applications over two years. “There was a lot of trepidation and fear.”


Pat Ciccone: ‘There was a lot of fear and trepidation’

Acting Education Commissioner George Coleman agreed that the “unanticipated attention” probably contributed to the application decline.

Ciccone said she believes Malloy’s proposed shakeup of the 10,600-student system led many parents to believe some schools would close or charge hefty tuition in the coming years, and thus discouraged applications.

In addition, public airing of problems with school maintenance, outdated equipment and rickety buses might have further reduced interest in the schools.

Cicconne said applications have fallen to 5,741 this year from 6,392 this time in 2009. The decline of 651 applicants “is the equivalent of an entire [grade] 9-12 population of one of our schools,” she said.

Now that the governor’s proposal has been downgraded to a study, Ciccone is hoping more students think about applying.

“We’re open,” she said, encouraging board members to get the word out.

In previous years, most of the seats for the upcoming year would be filled by now. As of March 28, 12 of the 16 schools still had openings. Ella T. Grasso in Groton has more than half of its 205 seats yet to be filled. Some will be claimed in coming weeks as students who were accepted decide whether to attend–but vacancies could remain if applications do not increase.

Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti wonders if the decline in applications is a result of there being fewer high-school aged students statewide. He said if the total number of high school students has declined, then that may be responsible for some of the decline in applications.

“We need to understand that the demographic trend is downward and that can shape what is going on,” he said.

Scott Zito, principal of Grasso, said the positive aspect of potentially not having every seat filled is that it may result in smaller class sizes.

“But I am hoping for full enrollment,” he said.

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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