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CT higher education advocates continue to sound the alarm over proposed state budget cuts

CSU student Sadie Boisvert speaks at a press conference to voice her opposition of the administration’s deficit mitigation plans to cut nearly $100 million from the most vulnerable college students, leaving them with fewer courses, reduced services and increased costs to attend state universities and community colleges at the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut February 05, 2024.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
CSU student Sadie Boisvert speaks at a press conference to voice her opposition of the administration’s deficit mitigation plans to cut nearly $100 million from the most vulnerable college students, leaving them with fewer courses, reduced services and increased costs to attend state universities and community colleges at the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut February 05, 2024.

Cutting higher education funding in Connecticut would be devastating to students and faculty, advocates say.

They’re sounding the alarm over proposed state budget cuts. Scores of students, professors and union leaders spoke for nearly seven hours at a public hearing Tuesday night. Hundreds of people submitted testimony ahead of the hearing.

Public colleges and universities in Connecticut are facing significant budget cuts due to federal emergency pandemic funds that are set to disappear.

Speakers included Bryan Greene, the Graduate Student Senate president at UConn.

"If higher education in the state of Connecticut is a priority to you, if diversity, if equity, if inclusion, if it’s a priority to you and if innovation is a priority to you, you’ll find a way to make this work," Greene told lawmakers.

The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system is seeking more than $47 million to avoid deeper cuts, ranging from programs to faculty.

CSCU chancellor Terrence Cheng told the state Appropriations Committee earlier in the day Tuesday that the amount they’re requesting won’t solve all of his system’s financial challenges.

“Without long-term, sustainable, viable funding, our system will continue to be in a very dangerous and precarious position,” Cheng said.

Officials with UConn have similar concerns. UConn provost Anne D'Alleva also addressed lawmakers on the committee.

“Students need more supports,” she said. “They need advising. They need coaching. They need mentoring, they need career services. And to provide this holistic student support, we need those professionals who can be there working with our students complementing their academic experience and helping them grow and segue out.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont says budget controls – called fiscal guardrails – help avoid state budget deficits.

“The governor has been clear that the fiscal guardrails have been essential to ending year after year of repeated deficits and finally bringing the state’s fiscal health to a stronger place,” the governor’s office said in a statement earlier this month.

State officials have also said that it's not realistic for public colleges to expect to maintain emergency funding levels.

Advocates are pushing for an additional $250 million for public higher education in the state.

At Southern Connecticut State University, sections of courses have been getting canceled in waves, said Cindy Stretch, an English professor and faculty union leader at the school. She said this hinders students’ success and speed at which they can move on to their next life steps.

“We have an obligation not just to provide access, but to provide the support that students need to be able to actually stay and finish,” Stretch said ahead of the public hearing.

Budget cuts to UConn are not only threatening students’ work, but also what their research can contribute to the future of the state, too, according to Grace Easterly, president of the UConn graduate employee and postdoc union, UAW 6950.

“We have graduate employees that are researching everything in Connecticut, from birds that are native to Connecticut to aquaculture and the Long Island Sound to the impact of flooding on the Connecticut community as to how effectively school meal programs are reaching Connecticut's kids,” she said. “It's this research that has huge benefits for Connecticut as a whole.”

Tuesday’s public hearing comes a couple of weeks after students and faculty members gathered at the Capitol, saying the underfunding of public colleges and universities has become a “crisis.”

Learn more

The Appropriations Committee’s public hearing on the governor's budget adjustments for higher education agencies began at 5 p.m. Tuesday and can be livestreamed online. Advocates spoke at 6:30 p.m. in the state Legislative Office Building and streamed their remarks.

Connecticut Public's Eric Aasen contributed to this report.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.