by Nicholas Leahey
A handful of students and administrative faculty attended Connecticut State University (CSU) Day at the state capital building in Hartford last Tuesday, March 19, along with other students and faculty from other schools in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, amid a backdrop of the state’s ongoing budget crisis.
Representatives from each school lobbied for the system in the Old Judiciary Room, talking with a mixture of fellow CSCU students and administrative faculty, as well as members of the CSCU Board of Regents (BOR), and state representatives.
“I feel that it is important that the legislators in this building hear directly from students as to why our system of public higher education is important, and why they should invest in it, which is investing in our state’s future,” said BOR President Mark Ojakian at the event, who hopes to obtain as much funding for the system as possible, while mitigating any cuts which may come towards it. “Having students interact with legislators, and relay to them their personal stories, I think will be critical as we move forward with the budget in the next few weeks.”
The event, which saw a larger than normal turnout, also featured several student and faculty speakers, including three students and two system administrators, and President Okajian. All spoke about favorable experiences during their time in the CSCU system, and why it was important to maintain and continue to fund the state’s largest public education system.
The annual lobbying event comes amid a backdrop of the ongoing state budget crisis, which has spurred cuts in state funding towards certain programs, and resulted in numerous layoffs of state workers.
Some budget cuts have been made directly to higher education, including the CSCU system. This has prompted concerns about the funding for schools in the system, many of which, including CCSU, are known for providing higher education at an affordable cost.
“You have to be concerned with the level of support services available to a student,” said Director of Research and System Effectiveness William Gammell, who voiced concern especially for community college students, who normally have a full time job and family to provide for in addition to doing school work.
“Higher education is not an expense, it’s an investment,” he added.
While many possess the same opinion as Gammell, state lawmakers still insist that they must first address with the nearly one billion dollar hole which currently exists in the state budget. As a result, as legislators try to close the gap, many have not ruled out cutting funding and spending for higher education in the state to fix finance issues.
“This type of event puts you in front of us, so that we look at you very clearly when we make these decisions,” said State Representative Toni walker, who is the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and also serves on the Committee for Higher Education and Employment Advancement. “And that is the most important part that we have – is to try and make sure that we don’t forget the faces of the students that work in this state and live in this state, and how important they are to protect when moving forward.”
While there is uncertainty if whether or not lawmakers can pass a budget by the set May 1 deadline, they still have until July 1 at the latest. That is when the new fiscal year begins.