Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)
Hidden behind the shadows of this year’s state budget debate is a growing set of actions that will do more damage to Connecticut’s future than anything we’ve seen during this Great Recession.
Connecticut’s fundamental truth is that our most precious natural resource is our people and the only economic development strategy that will work is to ensure that we have the most educated, knowledgeable and capable workforce in the nation and the world in order to successfully compete in the 21st Century global marketplace.
As we lose our educational edge to southern and midwestern states, not to mention China and India, we are seeing a disaster of unparalleled proportions taking shape – a disaster that will make the Rust Belt and its failed manufacturing economy almost look good.
While the debate about taxes and state employee concessions makes headlines, few realize that the state budget Governor Malloy proposed and the Democratically-controlled legislature enacted will make the deepest cuts to our public colleges and universities in state history.
In the coming days, the General Assembly will hide inside a so called “implementer bill” an authorization for a massive re-organization of the Connecticut State University System and Connecticut’s Community and Technical Colleges – a planned merger that fails to consider for what is best for our colleges and more than 100,000 students who attend them.
A story in yesterday’s edition of the CT Mirror offers us a glimpse into the devastating impact these decisions will have on our public institutions of higher education.
As a direct result of Governor Malloy’s budget cuts and policies being championed by the Governor and his Commissioner of Higher Education, Connecticut’s community colleges are on the verge of ending their historic policy of “open enrollment”, a policy that assures that anyone, regardless of background or economic standing has the opportunity to attend one of our state’s community colleges as they seek to acquire the knowledge and
skills to succeed.
Stop for a moment and understand what is taking place.
The Malloy Administration is implementing a change in policy that would take us from a state in which every person has a right to expand their skills and advance their education to one in which, as Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said, the state must focus resources on those who have a real chance of benefiting from taking courses.
The CTMirror article reports that “Meotti said that Connecticut should reconsider offering access to post-secondary education to those who are destined to fail. Three of every four students who enter the community college system lack basic knowledge in math, English and reading and are
required to take remedial courses upon entry into a community college, according to the State Department of Higher Education.”
Meotti adds in his own words that these “are students who are so not ready and have no ability to be successful in a college classroom,”
The Democratic Commissioner of Higher Education, serving under a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Legislature, in a state
with the highest achievement gap of any nation, a place that can only succeed if we have a well trained workforce says that our community colleges should be reserved for those who are destined to succeed?
We aren’t talking about entrance to Yale or even UConn (although remember George W. Bush went to Yale and his academic skills certainly didn’t predict his “success”). We are talking about ability to attend on of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges, institutions whose primary role is not to provide academic degrees but to ensure that every person has the opportunity to learn and grow and strengthen their skill set so they can build a better quality of life for themselves, their families and their community.
Imagine if what Meotti said was uttered by someone like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan. Demonstrators in Connecticut would take to the streets decrying their elitist, arrogant positions and suggesting that it was based on some inherent classism or racism.
A claim that only some people are “destined to succeed”?
Certainly Mike Meotti isn’t racist but the policies he is pushing would have devastating consequences on those who need a little more help because they are coming out of failing schools or don’t have the life experiences or network to ensure that they will absolutely “succeed” in college. Let’s face it, minorities, women, those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds will all be disproportionately hurt by these proposed policies.
And these are just the words of Malloy’s point person on higher education.
As the CTMirror points out, Governor Malloy himself “has a plan to decrease the high use of the state’s community colleges for remedial coursework.”
And the Governor added “We want to draw down [the number of] students who are having to use their time and energy” on remedial courses, he said. “That’s probably the best way to get at this problem.”
One assumes that the Governor is expecting that Connecticut’s public high schools can improve student performance to the point that students graduate with the fundamental skills they need to be successful in college. However, the challenges facing our schools, especially those in urban areas, schools that will be producing 40% of Connecticut workforce, are significant and improvements will take years, even decades, to fully implement. In the mean time, Malloy’s proposed approach would mean tens of thousands of Connecticut residents would be shut out from the opportunity to go to a community college to acquire additional education and skills. Hardly the appropriate path to take if we want a stronger economy, not to mention a more equitable and just society.
Instead of ending open enrollment in our community colleges, how about we actually throw the doors wide open and use our scarce resources to give these students the tools they need to succeed, even if they need some remedial work before taking some of the more advanced courses.
How about we don’t cut $20 million dollars from the most efficient and effective part of Connecticut’s system of higher education, our community colleges.
What if we remembered that not everyone begins or even finishes their primary and secondary school experiences with the same set of skills and capabilities, but every person, old or young, white or black, man or woman, rich or poor can always learn and improve their skills as they seek to position themselves to succeed.
And Instead of simply talking about jobs, how about we actually do something to ensure we have a broad based, multi-talented workforce that is prepared for the jobs our businesses will need… oh and Governor, some of those jobs aren’t in state of the art research labs but still require skills beyond what people are getting in high school.
But most importantly, where are the voices of reason on this vital issues?
Why the silence from members of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus and other legislators representing communities whose constituents will be especially hurt by the politics Malloy and Meotti are moving forward with?
Where are the more progressive legislators who claim to truly believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed, not just those who have been born with opportunities dropped into their laps?
Where are the women legislators who understand the barriers that are in place for women trying to return to the job market and how some courses, even if they don’t end up in an Associate Degree, can be the difference between finding and not finding safe, quality work?
Where are those policy makers who were the first in their family to attend college or at least recognize that first time college attendees might very well need – and certainly deserve – some extra help as they work to change the course of their lives?
Where is Connecticut’s business community who complain so bitterly that they don’t have access to enough educated workers, even to the point of needing to import workers from other states and countries? These economic times are hard enough for Connecticut’s businesses without having our state leaders implement policies that will ensure we don’t have an educated enough workforce as we move deeper into the 21st Century.
And where are the editorial writers whose job it is to speak out on important issues like this?
As Governor Malloy and the General Assembly careen toward the last day of the 2011 legislative session, Connecticut’s future doesn’t rest with how the FY12 budget drama plays out. Connecticut’s future will depend on whether the Democratic Legislature has the vision, courage and wherewithal to put the brakes on Malloy’s disastrous higher education policies so that they can return next year with a plan that builds, not destroys Connecticut’s most important economic development tool – our colleges and universities.
Watch this issue carefully in the coming day. How the General Assembly handles Malloy’s efforts to undermine Connecticut’s community colleges will say a lot about their character and dedication to Connecticut’s future.