I am a professor of Sociology and Criminology at Southern Connecticut State University. I spent the year incredibly impressed with my students’ work, their openness to thinking outside the box, and their enthusiasm for learning and planning their futures. But my most indelible impression from this first year is how these students devoted themselves to learning even as they were dealing with incredible pressure.
I had multiple students caring for sick and disabled family members, grieving sudden deaths in their families, managing their own illnesses and treatments, and working at least one job while going to school full-time. Many are first generation college students, feeling the weight of their families’ pride and expectation that they will graduate and fulfill their families’ dreams for them.
When I taught in class about the proposed budget changes, students spoke about their stress and fear about what may come given the proposed legislative budget, what it means for higher education in our state, and most importantly what it would mean about their ability to stay in school at all. These are students who are already only barely making ends meet, but still do their work and come to class, in pursuit of a better future for themselves and their families.
My student Mic’ah Lynn spoke about being worried about continuing to pay for college if tuition must be raised. “I come from a middle to lower-class family, and money doesn’t come around easily,” he said. He’s had to contact SCSU’s mental health resources to get support to continue on his higher education journey due to the financial stress. With the current budget, not only would his tuition be raised, but those mental health services may also be slashed.
Another of my students, Zaria Anderson, said that she was shocked by the proposed budget cuts. A senior, she was only able to attend college because of the options of public state universities. “While I have gotten accepted into very good colleges and universities, I have never been able to afford them,” she said. “Southern gave me an opportunity to be able to attend college at a lower cost.” She is hoping to pursue a master’s degree at Southern, but will have to change her plans if tuition costs rise.
Max Frischling is a child to a single parent who works hard to help cover his college costs. Funding cuts, and thus tuition hikes, would only increase the burden that he and his father feel when paying for college. He wrote, “‘I don’t know if we can swing that'” is a phrase I’ve had to hear my single parent say too many times. He works tirelessly to help cover the cost of my education at SCSU on top of the aid and grants that make my attendance possible. A funding cut to the CSCU system that ends in a tuition raise would increase that burden on us both significantly.”
Daymary Lopez is concerned about the potential impact of cuts on tuition, as well as course offerings and services. She also worries about how these possible cuts would impact equity and diversity at the CSUs. These cuts would add another barrier to students like her, who are first-generation and nontraditional college students. It would also make it harder for Black and brown students to gain opportunities that college provides, she said, such as better employment. “For us to remain here in Connecticut for future generations, to continue to pay taxes and continue to grow the diversity of Connecticut and keep our knowledge and capital here in Connecticut, we need that education,” she said.
As a professor, I see these students now only hanging on by a thread because they must already work multiple jobs to afford current tuition. These are students devoted to their education, and to getting good jobs so that they can raise their families in our beloved state. With the proposed cuts, I will have to watch these students drop out one by one, or struggle to do their schoolwork or even stay awake in class because even more of them will have to work third shift jobs just to afford the raised tuition. This is deeply unjust.
If these budget cuts are implemented, it would spell devastation for the CSCU system and negatively impact all of my students. These students are the future of our state: We must do better for and with them.
Venezia Michalsen is a Professor at Southern Connecticut State University/Hamden.