Rep. Pam Staneski Op-ed: Students First, Please.



Tis that time of the year in which we, as legislators, ready ourselves for the next regular session that begins February 7, though one could say that we never finished the last session.

While some structural changes were made last session that will help Connecticut move forward—a spending and a bonding cap—this year will continue to bring fiscal challenges with budget deficits projected in the out years.  Getting the state’s fiscal house in order must remain a priority and will require more tough choices, more restructuring, and more out-of-the-box thinking.

As Ranking Member of the Higher Education Committee, I am monitoring one such restructuring that was recently approved by the Board of Regents (the governing body of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities)—the consolidation of the community colleges from twelve separate colleges; currently acting independently of each other, to one system with twelve branches.  The plan has miles to go before it is actually implemented by its target date of July 2019, but once implemented is projected to streamline back-office services, with an annual savings of roughly $28 million.

The plan, aptly named Students First, puts students “at the center of all decisions”.   A system-wide program will allow courses taken (and passed) at any location to apply to GPA and graduation requirements, will build upon the TAP program, provide a “common general education core” for all undergraduates, streamline the financial aid application process, and eliminate duplicative fees.

However, it comes with some valid concerns such as how will the move from twelve separate accredited schools to a single system impact the colleges, how will the respective community college foundations be treated, will the unique programs developed at the respective community colleges be protected, and how will resources be allocated to the campuses?  Once these concerns are addressed, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges must approve the final document.

One of the ways to make Connecticut competitive again is to strengthen the talent pipeline.  Our community colleges play an important role in providing people with the education, skills and credentials to succeed.  The Students First plan is the first step to ensure that the community colleges remain a viable and affordable option.

As always, please reach out to me with any questions on this or other matters of concern to you:

Happy New Year to all!