Connecticut could expand free college tuition program in the next budget
More Connecticut residents would go to college for free under a plan proposed by the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.
A new proposal to expand the Pledge to Advance Connecticut program, also called PACT, would extend free tuition to all community college students. CSCU president Terrence Cheng, who oversees all community colleges and state universities except UConn, said the proposal would also cover some university students in a move that could help the state address a shortage of nurses, teachers and mental health professionals.
“We believe the expansion of PACT to include university students in targeted areas that are a priority for the state will have an enormous workforce, as well as societal, impact,” Cheng said.
As it stands with PACT, students enrolled in the state’s 12 community colleges don’t pay for school if they’re taking at least six credits and are attending college for the first time.
Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said further investment in the state’s free college tuition program would beef up dual-enrollment programs for high schoolers.
“For many students, by the time they enter into their senior year, they’re leaving school half-day because they’ve completed their courses and they’ve completed their credits,” Rabinowitz said Thursday in a phone interview. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could just continue on and be programmed to get that associate’s degree?”
Rabinowitz said the expansion of free college tuition would help students in Connecticut’s 33 lowest-performing school districts to develop a plan beyond high school.
“We would be able to give them the skills and background to be able to start work when they finish high school,” she said.
The proposal calls for $54 million more than 2023 funding allocated to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system in fiscal year 2024 and $127 million more the following fiscal year.
Connecticut Democrats, including state Rep. Gregg Haddad (D-Mansfield) and state Sen.Derek Slap (D-Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hartford) support free college legislation.
“I think that this is an important investment we need to make to not only grow our economy, but also to help retain and attract younger folks to the state of Connecticut,” Slap said in a phone interview Thursday.
Republican legislative leaders haven’t indicated to Connecticut Public whether they’ll support the proposal.
Cheng said that If the money is approved, some students could begin receiving free tuition as soon as the fall.
Looking for money to revitalize college campuses
Another way the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system believes it could help keep Connecticut students from leaving the state for work is to improve the conditions of area colleges and universities.
Cheng is asking the state bonding commission for $2.2 billion to renovate campuses across the state.
“This entire proposal we deem necessary to move the system forward to execute the plans and to achieve the goals of the state,” Cheng said, “and that’s workforce development, community impact, making strides forward when it comes to closing equity gaps, to closing achievement gaps and ultimately serving the folks who live in Connecticut in every way we can.”
Gateway Community College and Capital Community College were two local colleges CSCU targeted for overhaul in a news release promoting the state bonding ask.
“Connecticut students will be educated in Connecticut, and ultimately, they stay to live and to work in Connecticut,” Cheng said of his goal for the funding.
Note: Gateway Community College is a partner of Connecticut Public.