Since the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic one year ago, one thing has been clear: life after this virus will not be the same. For college students like me, this is especially true. At a time when most of my peers are considering summer internships or their first job after graduation, we have been forced to evaluate how the pandemic has fundamentally altered the current job market.

Michael Cerulli

As postsecondary education becomes more and more valuable in today’s economy, it is essential that students are given every opportunity to attain postsecondary credentials. Legislators and other leaders must prioritize equity and develop policies that promote high quality postsecondary opportunities, align our education with the needs of Connecticut employers, and ultimately drive Connecticut’s growth into the future.

In order to promote equitable postsecondary pathways and encourage students to remain in state after school, Connecticut should continue to build on the successes of the Connecticut State University system and my school, the University of Connecticut, both of which boast extremely high rates of students finding employment in Connecticut after they graduate. Not only do the vast majority of in-state students find employment in Connecticut after graduation, but in the case of UConn, more than a quarter of out-of-state graduates find employment in our state as well.

Recognizing these realities, Gov. Ned Lamont has introduced S.B. 881, which proposes an automatic admission to Connecticut State Universities for academically qualified high school graduates and a similar program has been rolled out by President Tom Katsouleas at UConn. These proposals provide direct support to students through targeted outreach, streamlined applications, and the removal of common barriers such as application fees. These inclusions will be especially effective for first generation, low income, and minority students.

Another priority of S.B. 881 is ensuring all students have access to the financial assistance they need in order to pursue their education. I’ve seen too many of my friends and peers deterred or derailed from postsecondary education by ballooning costs. Low income students, first generation, and minority students in particular face barriers in enrolling into a postsecondary education and it is critical that Connecticut provides these students with the resources and support they need so that they can earn high-quality postsecondary credentials that are tied to the needs of Connecticut employers.

One such means of support is ensuring students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. With states leaving billions of dollars on the table each year in Pell grant funding, the FAFSA getting 75% shorter, and FAFSA enrollment declining in Connecticut and in the country, the time to act on FAFSA is now and the FAFSA graduation requirement highlighted in S.B. 881 is a fantastic start.

Passing and, more importantly, effectively implementing these policies must be a priority in this unprecedented legislative session. Equally important is ensuring that four-year degrees are not the only pathway to high paying, fulfilling jobs. Community colleges and trade schools serve a vital role for our state’s economy, filling high demand jobs for the industries that power Connecticut’s growth. By prioritizing these pathways to employment, our state’s leaders fulfil the dual mission of aligning education policy with the needs of employers and providing a pathway to meaningful and fulfilling work for all types of students.

Connecticut is well positioned to prepare for the realities of the post-COVID economy. In order to make the most of this moment, we must prioritize making educational opportunities more accessible for all students in the state so that we are laying the foundation for a nation-leading workforce and a bright economic future.

Michael Cerulli of Trumbull is a UConn student and President of the College Democrats of Connecticut.

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