Recently, at the Crystal Mall, a young woman who had noticed my Eastern Connecticut State University shirt approached me. A senior at Waterford High School, she told me that she, too, was thinking of applying to Eastern, but she didn’t know what state schools had to offer anymore. I was painfully reminded of a devastating article I had just read about a projected 10 percent budget cut across the board to Connecticut’s state colleges and universities in 2017. I wondered if she’d read it too.

Seven years ago I chose to pursue public higher education in Connecticut, and it is the best decision I’ve ever made. Never once did I feel that I was sacrificing quality for affordability. Truthfully, no statistics or booth at a college fair can fully depict the high-caliber education, inside and outside of the classroom, which Connecticut’s public universities can provide. The myriad kinds of support I received from faculty enriched my experience and primed me for success in my career path in many ways:

At Eastern, I learned invaluable lessons in professionalism, leadership, creativity, and quick-thinking. I worked in Eastern’s Writing Center, supporting the development of student writers from different majors and backgrounds. It was here that I had my first experience working with non-native English speakers, like the time I helped a timid peer from Norway acquire the skills to write a paper in English that she was proud of for the very first time.

I held an internship as a teaching assistant in an upper-level grammar class, where I gained tremendous experience in front of the classroom while working one-on-one with a cooperating faculty member. I helped give lectures, conducted group work, and designed assignments in this instrumental introduction to the craft of teaching. I met with small groups and provided extra help outside of class, learning what it meant to actually take pride in my work and help others. I never could have imagined the prospect of this kind of training and practice, especially as an undergraduate preparing to enter the professional world.

To top it all off, I graduated from Eastern on time, without massive debt, and was accepted at Indiana University-Bloomington’s linguistics program.

Mere months after arriving at IU-B, I was offered a graduate assistantship at the Linguist List, an internationally known online resource for scholars. The professor who recommended me knew that my work at Eastern had prepared me to be a flexible, sharp, and perceptive member of the editorial staff, and singled me out for the position. I interviewed and was hired immediately.

I thrived in the master’s program, something I could have never done without the dedicated and attentive support of faculty in the CSCU system, who consistently made innovative, unique, and worthwhile experiences possible. Well-funded public higher education allowed me to flourish not only during my four-years of college, but equipped me with an aptitude for a lifetime of success. My experience shows just how much universities, like Eastern, do with funding, and how disinvesting in state universities would be a tragic mistake.

There are many great things about traveling and getting out of one’s comfort zone, and I am grateful for my time spent out of Connecticut. Yet, I find myself back here. I returned to Connecticut to earn my PhD in UConn’s Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences program. I was one of a handful of prospective students admitted to an interdisciplinary training program in neurobiology of language, funded by the National Science Foundation.  As I work on fulfilling my final educational goal, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.

I’ve learned that the public universities that we have in Connecticut have much to offer; it is why I chose to return here. It is why I hope to continue to achieve personal and career goals in Connecticut and to contribute to its economic growth. Our state universities helped me grow to be a productive adult and lifelong learner, and make me proud to be a resident of this state. There has already been a 22 percent reduction in state funding since 2009, and it would be a great loss if, due to continual defunding, future CSCU students wouldn’t be able to have the opportunities that I had.

Ashley Parker is a graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University and a Doctoral Student at the University of Connecticut. She lives in Griswold.

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