Two tiers in Connecticut higher ed: UConn and everyone else
I have the hard-earned privilege of being a professor at Southern Connecticut State University — a major regional educational institution whose research and teaching provide an immediate and enduring benefit to New Haven and the whole state.
I am proud of my students, colleagues, and school; at the same time, I am disappointed with system politics and Connecticut’s willingness to construct a two-tiered system for its students in higher education: The University of Connecticut and everyone else.
I comment here on most of the stories that involve higher education in our state because I’m certain my school deserves more support and my colleagues deserve your respect. You see, I believe that my school’s fine work is not understood by our political leaders and by many of the CT Mirror’s readers.
I cannot speak for the entire faculty at Southern, but as a member of one of its largest departments, English, I know how hard we work and how sincere our commitment is to the growth of our students in life, literacy, and civic and career development. We get kids many other schools look down upon, but my experience with Southern’s students proves how much value these students bring to the classroom, where they are groomed to do even more for themselves, their families, and the state.
As a writing teacher for more than 30 years, I can easily compare my present students’ essays and creative writing to any composed at UConn. How can I make this comparison? Not just because the instruction of my colleagues and the production of academic work is at a much higher level than you think, but because most of our students have learned to do more with less since they were born.
You might think that higher education is here to give them tools to have more and to compete more than previous generations. And you might agree that education is part of the American Dream. The present consolidation process is stratifying our dreams wrongly.
What reasoning says that under-advantaged students deserve less support than those in our flagship university? I think it’s the state’s job to invest in everyone’s future fairly, and when we invest in CSCU students, we are really helping our state. Alumni from the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities have more to do with Connecticut’s financial success than their peers at UConn because alumni from the CSCU system comprise more of Connecticut’s population. It’s a simple fact.
Finding simple facts about per-student state comparisons is a muddy dig. For example, I learned the state is anticipated to give UConn $396.7 million this fiscal year, and they have approximately 23,000 students enrolled. The CSCU system is budgeted for $572.8 million from the state for the approximately 90,000 students it enrolls. The muddiness is in the fact that neither of these figures takes into account full-time equivalent students.
Facts are slippery, and I am biased by my 15 years in the CSCU system, but does anyone doubt we give UConn students our most privileged learning environment?
UConn serves fewer students but receives more revenue than CSCU from state appropriations, foundation support, federal and state grants, special one-time state appropriations, private donor support for scholarships, and tuition and fees — all to support the academic enterprise and student education. Is everyone blind to the fact that our poorest students need more of the kind of support we give to UConn?
This administration’s constant shrinking of CSCU’s budgets has made our state’s most needy institutions of higher education take the worst hits. I’m not talking about cutting fat — that happened ten years ago. We’re past muscle and removing bones beyond recognition. Higher education needs more support, as well as accountability, at all levels. Isn’t it time for transparent and equitable apportionment of higher education resources in Connecticut?
The ethos and spirit of fairness in Connecticut is really what is at stake. Why are we advancing inequality and sustaining privilege when we have the means to be more fair? And why are we short-changing Connecticut’s future by stripping resources from the very students who are most likely to stay here and work here for the rest of their lives?
Will Hochman is a professor of English at Southern Connecticut State University.
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