Hundreds Speak Out Against Proposed Budget Cuts for Higher Education
March 01, 2011
Students came to the Capitol by the busloads Monday to praise their state and private colleges and universities and to tell legislators that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget cuts would negatively impact their hopes for the future.
Monica Zinke, a senior in the nursing program at Naugatuck Valley Community College, said that in two years she has gone from earning $24,000 a year to someone with the potential to earn $65,000 when she graduates.
"As you can see, this is the difference between poverty and middle class," she said. She said she could not have afforded to go to school without the state, federal and community college grants that she has received. She fears that if tuition climbs higher because of state cutbacks students will not be able to afford to go to college.
"I ask that you please reconsider your cuts to the community college system – cuts that will prohibit a substantial number of citizens from continuing their education," she said.
Jamie Mattos, a Goodwin College student, spoke out against the proposed elimination of state scholarships to students attending private colleges.
"I understand the rationale for cutting funds to private schools in general," said Mattos, who is the single mother of a daughter with autism, "but Goodwin College is a new school. We do not have a huge endowment and we are not financially on the same footing as most other private colleges in the state."
Mattos said the many single parents and low-income students who attend Goodwin are least able to "pay out of pocket" and "will be hardest hit by these cuts."
Thomas Haggerty, president of the University of Connecticut student government, said students are worried that the proposed budget cuts could result in students having to spend five or six years in school getting the classes they need rather than just four.
He is also concerned that there could be cutbacks in amenities on campus – such as bus service – that could make UConn a less appealing place to go.
Gilbert Gigliotti, a professor of English and Latin at Central Connecticut State University, told legislators that his students are "tenacious for their ability to adapt to circumstances beyond their control."
He said he fears that when students are hit with "higher gas taxes and sales taxes and income taxes" along with "cuts at CCSU that will result in larger classes, fewer course offerings, fewer student services," they may not complete their degrees.
Vijay Nair, president of the state university chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the proposed reduction of 10 percent in the general fund allocation for state universities cannot be achieved by streamlining management alone.
"It will reach into the classroom and harm our students," said Nair. "CSU may have some management bloat, but not of a magnitude sufficient to absorb the proposed cuts."
The hearing which went on for four-and-half-hours at the Legislative Office Building before 400 to 500 people, was filled with many heartfelt accounts of how the opportunity for an education had changed lives.
"You really hear their passion for their school, and the professor's passion for the student," said State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's higher education and a new member of the Appropriations subcommittee on higher education.
"It's easy to say: Oh, just slash government," Bye said. "But having hearings like this you realize that government really does help people get up and out."
Earlier in the day, Appropriations Committee members heard testimony from representatives of UConn, the state university system, and the community college system – all testifying that they would try to implement budget cuts without affecting the classroom experience, but questioning whether this would be possible.
In a particularly pointed exchange, Sen. Joe Markley told Louise Feroe, senior vice chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, that a central systems office "seems to represent the kind of level of bureacracy that I think people are to some extent suspicious of."
He enumerated the number of vice chancellors and other administrators and said, "It sounds bloated without knowing any more than that."
Markley asked Feroe if she was prepared to downsize her office or whether she would wait for the legislature to do it.
Feroe replied that her office has already saved $48.9 million in reduced and avoided costs and would come up with a "clear plan" to further reduce the numbers of people and the budget.
Rep. Roberta Willis D-Salisbury, who is co-chairwoman of the higher education committee, warned that the agency would have to come up with a reduction plan. Otherwise, she said, there may be a "total elimination of the systems' office. I mean those are the options."
Vicky Greene, chief financial and administrative officer for the community college system, presented figures which she said showed that the cutback proposed for the community college system was disproportionately large.
Bye said later that she thought this might be the case. "I think there may have been some kind of error," Bye said. "We will look to meet with (the Office of Policy and Management) and talk about this. I think it's the constituent unit that can least afford the biggest hit."
Others raised questions during the hearing about whether the consolidation of the central office of the state university and community college system would save the millions that Malloy has promised.
Bye said legislators will be pressing to get "some real numbers" on how much money will be saved by a consolidation.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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