Two years ago, Charter Oak State College was facing a very difficult financial future. At that time, the General Assembly increased our state allotment to give us some room to address our issues. I write this to thank them and share the progress we made with that “breathing room.”
First, Charter Oak State College has been able to implement a multi-pronged strategic plan that has allowed us to capitalize on our advantages. As Connecticut’s only public online institution focused on advancing our workforce one graduate at a time, we increased our marketing efforts to get that story out. We also reorganized our staff, leaving some positions unfilled, and we rallied our entire team around the need to increase enrollment. These efforts worked, and we have achieved growth in successive semesters over the past two years.
We also considered our responsibility to give back to Connecticut, to our community. So we launched the Connecticut Community College Tuition Match Scholarship in the Spring of 2018.
We encouraged Connecticut community college graduates to enroll at Charter Oak and pay the same tuition they paid at the community colleges. This program incents students to graduate from their Connecticut community college and immediately proceed to earning their bachelor’s degree. The requirements cater to both full-time students and students who are also working full time, affording them the opportunity to pursue their bachelor’s degrees while earning a living. In effect, we have produced a debt-free bachelor’s degree.
In other words, we are offering students access to a bachelor’s degree from Charter Oak at our cost. This approximate 40 percent tuition rate reduction has enabled Connecticut students to continue their education while reducing student loan debt, a significant issue across our state and the country. Initial feedback from 200 participating community college students was overwhelmingly positive, with students thrilled they didn’t have to rearrange their family budget or even worse, dismiss their hopes of a bachelor’s degree and lose their educational momentum. In tracking these students, we noted that those enrolling at Charter Oak averaged a 3.5 GPA from their associates’ degree institutions. We hope you agree that this approach to moving students forward with a high quality, low cost bachelor’s degree is deserving of support.
However, that is not all we have done. On Feb. 6, the CSCU Board of Regents approved an overall tuition rate reduction at Charter Oak of approximately 2.5 percent. We believe that higher education is pricing itself beyond the ability of its audience to pay. Charter Oak, with the General Assembly’s help, is committed to bending that cost curve and actually reducing the cost of higher education.
Our focus continues to center on programs with immediate workforce relevance. Toward that goal we have recently launched an RN to BSN program for nurses with a license and associate’s degree, a master’s degree in Health Care Administration, a masters in Health Care Informatics (another critical health care employer need), a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and a certificate in Health Information Fundamentals for Health Care Professionals.
We believe that higher education is pricing itself beyond the ability of its audience to pay.
Charter Oak’s strategy has been to pilot programs in small form first and expand as demand and success ensues. On the horizon, Charter Oak is pleased to share the following upcoming programs that are in development: building off of our Public Safety and Health Care Administration programs we are developing courses of study for EMT managers; success with paraprofessional certificates will evolve into a paraprofessionals associate’s degree; we are revising our long term care certificates to better reflect today’s trends in nursing homes as well as home health care; and we are continuing to strengthen our programs in human resources and organizational leadership.
We are part of the CSCU system initiative —Degrees When Due —which encourages students who left college but are close to graduating to come back and complete their degree. Often, these students left because they could not make that final course payment, or they ran out of financial aid. Charter Oak continues to explore and innovate additional opportunities such as:
- Municipality-based grants and partnerships providing mutual state and local benefit
- The creation of an interest-free student loan program which eliminates interest rate charges for students not fully funded through federal financial aid grants
- Employer-based matching fund programs to strengthen Connecticut’s workforce
- Financial aid opportunities for employees of small or minority-owned businesses.
Fiscal pressure related to legacy fringe costs continues to be a significant hurdle for each of the higher education units, but as stewards of both student tuition and taxpayer dollars, the team at Charter Oak continues to work diligently to innovate solutions and create mutual wins for our students and the State of Connecticut. Our graduation rates remain strong at 54 percent as we continue to focus on working adults. To our partners in the General Assembly, we are open to feedback or to float ideas. Please accept this invitation to open dialogue whenever you see fit; you’ve been a great partner so far.
Ed Klonoski is the President of Charter Oak State College.