Debt-Free Community College Planned for 2020; Funding Depends On Online Lottery
Hartford Courant, June 6, 2019
By Shannon Larson
With the passage of the state budget, a program making community college debt-free for state residents could soon be coming to Connecticut.
Like other states nationwide, Connecticut has seen a steady decline in community college enrollment, raising concerns about access to education and the employability of its citizens. With residents moving out of state to seek opportunities elsewhere, the legislature has its eye on incentives that could encourage them to stay.
In order to qualify for the program, students must have graduated from a high school in the state, be enrolled full-time, make satisfactory academic progress while enrolled and accept all other available financial aid.
The budget proposes funding the new program by launching a new online lottery.
According to the bill, Gov. Ned Lamont will consult with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Consumer Protection to determine whether it’s feasible to allow the lottery “to offer online its existing lottery draw games through the corporation’s” website, mobile application or online service.
If the governor determines revenue from the online lottery is not sufficient to offset the costs of the debt-free community college program, he will be tasked with proposing adjustments to the state budget to account for the costs accrued.
Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, was concerned the internet lottery idea was being revived late in the legislative process as part of the state budget and as a way to fund the community college program.
“Why do we have a legislative process at all?” he said. “Let’s not put up the charade of saying we hear you ... your voice matters. You wonder why people don’t trust government.”
Connecticut consistently ranks among the highest nationwide when it comes to average student loan debt, with estimates ranging from $35,494 to $38,510.Of the nearly 48,000 students enrolled in community colleges across the state, more than 15,000 are full-time.
Similar initiatives back to top
The bill is modeled after similar initiatives in place across the country. After the passage of the Tennessee Promise in 2015, which made community college free statewide, approximately 16 other states followed suit, working to implement components of the program for their own citizens.
Haskell said 60 percent of Connecticut community college students have nearly all their tuition covered by Pell grants.
Rhode Island has a completely tuition-free community college system, and it has proven successful in terms of increasing enrollment rates, said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly. New York is moving forward with its own proposal allowing for residents to have some access to free higher education.
Connecticut is finally catching up with its neighbors who have “[leapt] ahead of us,” said Killingly, who is a graduate of Quinebaug Valley Community College.
“I’ve been researching this for years at this point, trying to see how we can replicate it here in Connecticut,” she said. “There are so many struggles that community college students have right now, and having tuition not be a worry for them is going to be huge.”
Close to 90 percent of students who attend community college in Connecticut stay in Connecticut, Flexer said.
“And frankly, the people who grew up in families like the one that ... I grew up in, where there’s a struggle to be able to pay for higher education, we’re going to stay in Connecticut anyway,” she said. “So let’s make sure that the people who are here in Connecticut have the most access to education.”