Connecticut stands at what can best be described as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) crossroads. If we are to strengthen and expand our economy, prepare our young people for not only jobs but careers, and reaffirm Connecticut’s legacy as a small but mighty bastion of ingenuity and innovation, we must play the long game, and we must intensify our efforts sooner rather than later.
Ever proud of my heritage as a community college student, I have never reflected more deeply on the value of these institutions than over the recent years during which I have served on the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. The Board, comprised of volunteers from many backgrounds, serves at a time when Connecticut’s 12 community colleges struggle to maintain services and affordability amid sharply reduced state funding and flat or declining population and enrollment. Previously, as chair of the Regents’ Finance Committee, I witnessed the recurring mantra of very good college administrators trying to make budgets work within a broader organizational structure that itself was becoming unsustainable.
I recently had the honor of speaking at an event to support the Student Crisis Fund at Charter Oak State College, my alma mater. This is a fund that helps students – and their education – survive unexpected financial challenges, from broken computers to dental emergencies. For many students, these $100 – $1,000 problems can stop an academic career dead in its tracks. And yet, colleges and universities – ours included – raise tuition and fees by easily the amount of the average withdrawal from the Student Crisis Fund. For too many students, these increases themselves create a widespread financial crisis every year.