Honorable members of the Connecticut General Assembly,
Having spent my career in public service, I am well aware of the difficult choices you face in closing the state budget deficit, and I don’t envy the decisions you have to make. I know many of you personally and you have shown time and again that you deeply care about our students, and their success. I have also heard from our students and staff over the last few days about their real fears and concerns about the budget passed a few days ago.
We understand that CSCU must play a role in helping to fix our state’s budget crisis, but we cannot do that at the expense of our students. This budget would cut close to $90M from the CSCU system over the biennium. Our state appropriations and associated fringe benefits are cut by over $64.4M, while the funding our students lose from the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Fund would amount to approximately $22.1M just in the need-based portion alone. The combination of these proposed cuts would make our institutions more costly and less accessible to the 85,000 students we serve. This would translate to fewer CSCU graduates, further reducing the number of career-ready citizens prepared to take jobs in Connecticut, and eliminating the potential growth to our companies and the state economy.
As you are aware, our system has been proactively pursuing structural changes in order to remain sustainable so we can continue to provide our students with the high quality education they deserve. At the same time, we are committed to being responsible stewards of the hard-earned investment of our students, their families, and the state’s taxpayers. However, these proactive efforts have been stymied by budget reductions and rescissions that have left our system operating with $66M less today than we had in 2015.
The reality we are facing is one of extremely limited options. Our institutions rely only on two primary sources of funding: state support, and student tuition and fees. This budget would force most of our institutions to spend down into their reserves, jeopardizing their accreditation. We would be forced to continue to pass on the financial burden to our students through increased tuition and fees. This would have a chilling effect, putting quality public higher education out of the reach of even more Connecticut students.
The elimination of developmental education funding would have an even more significant impact on our community college students, many of whom desperately need these programs to help them succeed. This would limit the opportunity for them to address deficiencies in their basic math and English skills necessary for college success. At the same time, phasing out the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Fund will deny access to higher education for almost 9,000 of our neediest students. Finally, this budget will result in severe cutbacks or outright elimination of essential supports such as academic advising, counseling, and physical and mental health services. All are among the most important supports in helping to keep our students enrolled and completing their degrees on-time.
The cumulative impact of all of these proposed reductions would be a state that is less prepared to meet the workforce needs of tomorrow. Over 95% of our students are from Connecticut and 86% stay here after they graduate. At a time when Connecticut's major employers are increasing their demand for a highly skilled workforce, we must continue to educate students interested in manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and other critical fields. With increasing competition among states to lure companies away, how will Connecticut convince employers to stay and grow, or move here if we cannot produce the workforce they will need in the future?
We all care deeply about the future of the state of Connecticut, and we know that CSCU must do our part to help balance the state budget at this critical time. But we must not compound the problems of the past by weakening the ability of our state to grow into the future. Students and the families that support them are more than numbers on a budget line item. They are residents and taxpayers of our state working extremely hard to pursue higher education and take their place as responsible contributors to their communities and the state. At this time, they look to you to protect that pursuit, whether they are funding their own education, first generation college students, or underrepresented students of color. They will all make greater contributions to Connecticut long after we have gone.
Thank you for your time and most importantly, your service to our state. As always, I am happy to meet with any and all of you to discuss how we can better serve our students.
Mark E. Ojakian
President, Connecticut State Colleges & Universities
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