If the Board of Regents of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities is to fulfill its stated vision to “continually increase the number of students completing personally and professional rewarding academic programs;” if it is to uphold its stated mission to “contribute to the creation of knowledge and the economic growth of the state of Connecticut by providing affordable, innovative and rigorous programs;” and if it is to honor the immense trust placed in it last year at this time by the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, it must employ a method other than the timeworn, self-defeating one of austerity with which to confront the budgetary shortfalls that the current pandemic has caused.
In Connecticut as elsewhere, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has not only threatened – and, in many cases, taken – people’s lives and livelihoods, it has also laid bare and exacerbated the longstanding but usually overlooked inequities alive in the state that we all call home. Connecticut has the regrettable distinction of being among the top five states not only for per capita income, but also for income inequality. It also has the third highest achievement gap between white students and students of color across almost every major performance indicator.
Now, faced at once with pandemic-inspired decreases in revenue and increases in the needs of those whom they serve, those who lead public agencies that have been required increasingly over the years to do more and more with less and less must decide how to proceed. The Board of Regents of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities is no exception.
Instead of again calling for already overburdened students to pay increased tuition and fees and/or to make do with less attention from professors, librarians, coaches, and counselors, the Board of Regents must take two actions if it is to fulfill its fiduciary obligation:
First, it must significantly reduce the expenses associated with the CSCU system office, whose costs already eclipse any benefit than it could possibly yield in the near, middle, or even long term.
Second, and even more important, it must petition state legislators and the governor for far more resources, not only to get the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities through the current crisis, but also to ensure their ability to provide still better service to the students who attend them – students who hail from families with fewer means than those who attend the University of Connecticut or any of the fine private institutions of higher learning in our state, and who contribute enormously to the health, culture, and economy of our state upon graduation.
Even before COVID-19 upended our daily lives, the household incomes of many of us in Connecticut – certainly, of the majority of students whom the CSCUs exist to serve – had failed to keep up with the steadily rising cost of living. Most families in the state have needed to cut back on what few extras they had previously allowed themselves in order to meet the costs of necessities that formerly had been, if not free, far less expensive.
The costs of attending such public institutions as the CSCUs – like the costs of health care – have risen at rates far beyond what most families can reasonably be expected to bear. Where institutions like the CSCUs had once been viable options for students who lacked the resources to attend more prestigious (and more expensive) private schools, they now are scarcely more accessible than their private counterparts.
Young people, today, have no such alternative – especially since they cannot possibly earn enough working multiple jobs to pay their way through school even part-time. Instead, they are increasingly trapped between the rock of not going on to college at all, and the hard place of taking on a burden of student loan debt that they cannot hope to repay in anything approaching a timely manner.
The Board of Regents must discharge its duty to the students and families of the state by reducing the CSCU system’s outsized administrative costs, and by insisting that Connecticut’s legislature and governor resume subsidizing students’ access to quality, public higher education to the degree that Connecticut used to do before embarking upon years of short-sighted, inequality-expanding austerity.
Christopher E. Trombly, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Southern Connecticut State University.