An advertisement for Connecticut's PACT program.

The Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) is supposed to offer students the opportunity to attend college debt free, at least for the first 48 months or 72 credits, whichever comes first. However, when dealing with public higher education in Connecticut, not thinking about intended, much less unintended, consequences is the norm.

Therefore, the PACT program is helping those students who are least likely to need this funding at a much higher percentage than those students who would benefit the most from receiving these funds.

At Norwalk Community College, 789 students received PACT funding at some level for the fall 2022 semester. The breakdown shown reflects the distribution of funds for Hispanic/Latino students (462), Black/African American students (122), and white students (153). It does not include 52 students (6.6% of recipients) who identify as none of these groups or choose not to identify.

As background – PACT was developed as a “last-dollar” award, to be made available to students only after all other federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs have been used. Therefore, students who are eligible for these programs must apply for and receive these funds before any PACT funds are made available to them. And PACT is based on first come, first served until funds run out.

For those students who qualify, a semester award covers the unpaid portion of institutional costs not covered by financial aid, or a minimum of $250 for a full-time student (12 credits or more) or $150 for a part-time student (6-11 credits). If these amounts exceed what is owed, the difference will be refunded. And this funding may not be used for textbooks or supplies, which are also not covered by federal grants.

This funding should be helping students who are already eligible to receive federal financial aid by allowing them to use this money first so they can defer applying for Pell and other grants until after PACT funding is used.

In other words, it should be a “first-dollar” award, not a “last-dollar” award.

Pell grants have limitations, and many community college students burn through Pell grants well before they have completed their educational journey. PACT does not help this issue. In addition, PACT is not offered to students taking summer classes, only fall and winter/spring classes apply.

If one of the stated goals of PACT is to “Support on-time credential completion” shouldn’t classes taken during the summer session be part of this program? Most importantly, there is no means test with PACT. It is available to all Connecticut residents who have graduated from a Connecticut high school (public, private, home-schooled, or received a GED or equivalent) regardless of income level. This allows, as shown above, those students who do not qualify for Pell or other grants, based on income, to apply for and receive PACT funding with much larger disbursements.

Put all this together and you have the perfect recipe for giving the largest awards to those students who need monetary help the least instead of to those students who need it the most.

Lois D. Aimé is the Director, Educational Technology/Adjunct Instructor at Norwalk Community College.