Lawmakers pledge to fund free college program

COVID-19 induced deficit or not, 3,137 students in a new free tuition program at state community colleges will not see the program disappear in the spring semester.

Officials from Connecticut State College and University said on Friday that they had received assurances from Democratic legislative leaders that the state would foot the bill.

“Any student who has met the eligibility requirements in the fall and enrolls full-time in the winter / spring will be eligible to receive funding,” said Alison Buckley, CSCU Vice President for Enrollment Management and student affairs.

Buckley said legislative leaders have pledged to repay the system $ 3 million in fall scholarships paid to the Pledge to Advance Connecticut program known as PACT and to continue funding the “last dollar” scholarship program. for the spring semester and next year.

“While these funds are not guaranteed, the CSCU board and management are confident enough to continue with the program as described here,” Buckley said.

The total price could be $ 12 million over the next two years.

In a letter to System Chairman Mark Ojakian, Senate Speaker pro tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven; House Majority Leader Matt Ritter; Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport and others have said they support the program which offers free tuition and fees to full-time students for the first time.

“We appreciate that these students have been a bright spot in a year in which enrollments have plummeted in the face of the pandemic, lost jobs and closed schools,” lawmakers said. “We are writing to you to commit to securing funding to both repay CSCU for the $ 3 million in reserve funds it spent to launch this program this fall semester and to secure an additional $ 3 million. to fund students currently enrolled in PACT until spring 2021.

“We also understand that an additional $ 6 million appropriation will be needed to fund the program for the school year starting in fall 2021 to allow currently enrolled students to continue into their second year,” they said.

Lawmakers have said it is clear the program meets a real need.

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on enrollments, lawmakers said they understood the system could not afford to continue funding the program without the state after this semester.

The plan is to identify and allocate funds to the PACT program for the current school year and beyond, when lawmakers take action on the state budget in 2021.

Other signatories to the letter include State Senators Cathy Osten and Mae Flexer and State Representatives Gregg Haddad, Gary Turco and Toni Walker, D-New Haven.

The system plans to reach all students who meet the eligibility requirements and ensure they register for the spring semester by November 24, 2020.

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