During my nearly 40-year association with higher education, I have made the same equity case about the value of community colleges. Their history is rooted in the public good. Their mission embraces the community. Their vision points to a stronger future. Their core values demand respect. They are the embodiment of the Civil Rights Movement. They are splendid institutions.
I recognize that at this frustrating point in their budget struggles, legislators may be tired of hearing the same equity case from us and other state agencies entrusted with public service. We all require adequate levels of state funding to serve the growing number of our citizens with the often-complex sets of problems they present us.
My argument is not to deny others the support they need. My plea is to give community colleges a fair share of the higher education budget—a fair share that reflects our return on investment to Connecticut.
Community colleges enroll the majority of students in Connecticut’s public higher education. We educate first-time and first-generation college students. We enroll the most financially needy students in the state. We serve the highest percentage of black and Hispanic students. We open pathways for thousands of associate degree students to our state universities. We respond to area employers with timely, proven workforce programs that fill jobs. We make a difference in every community in the state.
For example, at Naugatuck Valley Community College, our students complete their programs. For the sixth year in a row, we awarded more than 1,000 degrees and certificates. The U.S. Department of Education named NVCC among the top 25 community colleges in the nation for advancing opportunities for low-income students, as ranked among 1,108 community colleges. We’re named a Hispanic Serving Institution for our success with recruiting the poorest Hispanic population.
For 2016-17, of the 7,751 students who applied for financial aid, 5,100 of them actually received aid. Yet, thousands can’t qualify for aid. Most of them work, but they do not meet the low-income standard for Pell grants. They are the working poor and some of them are your neighbors. They need affordable tuition.
Community colleges serve as a bridge from the high schools and a bridge to our state universities. NVCC has a Bridge to College Office, supported entirely by grants, that works hand-in-hand with our public school educator-partners to prepare local students for college. Last year, NVCC itself transferred hundreds of students to our state universities, a number often duplicated by our other community colleges.
The NVCC Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center places all its program completers in jobs. Our nursing and allied health programs are recognized consistently by accreditation groups and praised by area health care employers. Our Community and Economic Development Division is responsible for proudly significant workforce contributions and the granting of noncredit certificates that are key to entering the local workforce. Despite their struggling with the demands of education, family, and jobs, NVCC students volunteer for hours at area hospitals, food kitchens, community agencies, and schools. Even with their sometimes fragile lives, our students make a difference. They come from the community and stay in the community. They care and serve.
NVCC students are joined in caring by their peers at the other state community colleges. We all are responsive institutions. We offer Connecticut a deserved and welcome return on its investment. We know we must share in the budget sacrifices. Yet, considering our contributions to Connecticut, we continue to need to advocate appropriately for a fair share of the higher education budget.
It’s the same old advocacy I’ve worked on for decades. With confidence in their agreement, even in these difficult times, I’m making this same equity case to our state legislators proudly.
Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D., is President of Naugatuck Valley Community College.