The future of higher education in Connecticut is at a crossroads.
We are facing the potential of budget cuts to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, which are already underfunded by the state. What does that mean? It means higher tuition costs for students, more program cuts for faculty and a sluggish economic engine for the state.
My students are already being priced out of the CSCUs. One of my students was forced to withdraw from classes due to an illness brought on by working the third shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and going to school at the same time. Many students are in similar boats, working multiple jobs to afford tuition costs or taking out astronomical loans.
This is a symptom of a larger problem in our state. In 1970, Connecticut was the 34th most unequal state in terms of income inequality. Today, it is second only to New York.
This growing inequality and inequity in our state will have, and already has had, dire consequences. At risk is the American ideal of social mobility, parents’ dreams that their children will do better than them, and the advancement of generations.
More than ever, the differences in Connecticut’s social classes are becoming ossified. The advantages of privilege and the disadvantages of poverty are being institutionalized across generations.
At Connecticut’s state universities and the community colleges, we primarily draw students from the bottom half of the class divide. Today, just as it was 25 years ago when I came to CCSU, roughly 40 percent of our student population are first‐generation college students. In many cases, these students are over‐achievers and are working hard to defy the odds, to realize opportunities and to find the elusive rungs of the social ladder.
So, if this legislature elects to cut the budget of CSCU, it is just falling in step with the direction of change over the last 50 years that has reduced social mobility and solidified the great social and economic realities that separate us. This step is one that will be hard, if not impossible, to undo when the consequences are realized.
In the governor’s budget, he tells us that the current budget reality of CSCU is unsustainable. He is right about that, but not in the sense that is intended. What is unsustainable is abandoning the next generation and passing more of the budget burden on to the backs of our students.
Stephen Adair is a Sociology Professor at Central Connecticut State University and a member of the CSU-AAUP.