Gov. Ned Lamont announced a number of legislative proposals Thursday aimed at tackling dropping enrollment numbers at Connecticut’s colleges and universities.
Nationwide, postsecondary enrollment decreased by 2.5% in the fall. In Connecticut, that number dropped by 3.5%, with community colleges seeing the largest enrollment decline in the state at 15%.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that when it comes to higher ed we take away … those procedures and roadblocks,” Lamont said on Thursday. “With a lot of help from the feds, we’re maintaining our commitment to K-12, CSU system, UConn and our other colleges, making sure that they’re open and affordable, and now we have to make sure that kids go there.”
Among the governor’s bills is a proposal to make the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, mandatory for high school students. The governor also plans to establish a guaranteed admissions program to the Connecticut State Universities and make advanced placement courses more accessible.
The FAFSA initiative would become a graduation requirement for high school students, but it would not prevent those who do not complete the application from graduating, according to Lamont’s Deputy Policy Director Mohit Agrawal.
“This is not a kind of requirement that’s going to hold students back but rather is the kind of requirement that’s going to push students forward,” Agrawal said.
FAFSA completion has been a priority for the state this school year after seeing a 16% drop in completed applications during the fall compared to the previous year, which counselors have attributed to students’ uncertainty about what higher education will be like during the pandemic.
The state department of education launched a database last month to track FAFSA completion at the same time Lamont challenged districts to improve their numbers. But during Thursday’s press conference, legislators and higher education officials emphasized there are still a number of students who miss out on money to help them pay for college because they do not believe they qualify for funding.
“We know that there are many smart, talented, hardworking students, we see them daily, most of whom would be the first in their family to go to college, who never get that far because we put too many procedural barriers and bureaucratic barriers in their way,” CSCU interim President Jane Gates said during Thursday’s press conference. “These few proposals will complement each other to provide a more streamlined critical pathway to a post-secondary degree for countless Connecticut students. It’s a win-win for our universities and for the students they serve.”
Requirements for the automatic admissions program are still being worked out, but Agrawal explained during Thursday’s press conference that it would follow “a class-rank threshold.”
How much the initiatives would cost the state was not explained during the press conference. Agrawal said there will be resources made available to the state Department of Education for additional staffing.
“There are some administrative costs related to what we’re doing, especially when it comes to applying for the FAFSA,” Lamont said. “But those are federal grants, and we’re using federal money, and not state money, in order to make college and CSU more eligible and more available to a lot of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity. That’s fundamentally how we’re paying for it.”
Additionally, University of Connecticut President Tom Katsouleas announced Thursday that the university is launching an Alliance Pathway Program beginning in fall 2022, which will be open to the students in the top 10% of their class ranking at at high schools in the state’s 33 lowest-performing districts and the top 10% of students at those schools whose families are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
“This is a new initiative to increase access to UConn education to those for whom college education has the greatest opportunity to transform lives and who might not have even considered applying in the past,” Katsouleas said on Thursday.
He explained that the Alliance districts will give the university the names of the students in the top 10%, then UConn will reach out to them about applying and arrange support services to help them with applications or participating in summer bridge mentorship programs.
“The overall goal here is to have a more diverse and representative class, both ethnically, socially and economically, and to meet the workforce needs of the state.”