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‘Free 2 Start’ Scholarship Program Could Offer Students State Aid For College

by Cindy Pena

A bill offering state aid for the first two academic years of a community-technical college is making its way through the Connecticut legislative process.

In addition to the state aid for community-technical students, the bill also states that the Planning Commission for Higher Education must develop a plan for a scholarship program for full-time students that will cover costs for the last two semesters of a student’s associate degree and the last four semesters of a student’s bachelor’s degree.

House Bill 5371-An Act Establishing the Free 2 Start Scholarship Program was passed in the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee in the middle of March this year. Currently, the bill has moved to the calendar of the House of Representative and is awaiting action from the House.

If the bill is approved, the $5 million program will take effect in July of 2018.

Central Connecticut students say that they hope this bill will pass to help students, who can potentially transfer to CCSU, pay for college.

“CCSU benefits from accepting transfer students from community colleges across the state,” Matthew Papapietro, CCSU student, said. “Providing the opportunity to attend college to a wider range of students could increase enrollment at CCSU in the future.”

Kassandra “Kass” Fruin, president-elect of the Student Government Association, agreed.

“This type of assistance is needed for students and families in Connecticut of low income,” Fruin said. “I know others can say the same, and especially students who chose to attend community college before a four-year institution to save more money. I believe this act is a good step into the right direction, and shows that there are legislators in Connecticut who care about higher education.”

Fruin and other members of the SGA have advocated for policies similar to HB 5371 to help students in Central access affordable higher education.

I will always advocate for affordability. I want to be the voice of students who did not get the future they deserved because they could not afford it,” Fruin said. “Without an affordable education, children and young adults like myself would not have easier avenues to flourish within today’s society.”

However, opponents of the bill argue that it can have a negative effect on students and other higher education institutions.

Jennifer Widness, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, stated in a public testimony presented to the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee that this bill will limit students’ abilities to choose between a public or private institution and can decrease enrollment in private colleges.

“Our state’s need-based aid program has been cut by 50 percent over the last eight years,” Widness stated. “Rather than picking winners and losers, the state should support access and choice to all sectors of higher education institutions by investing in the state’s need-based financial aid program, which lags the national average in both average grant and investment per student enrolled. A robust student aid program will incentivize Connecticut students to stay and allow them access to the institution that fits them best.”

Despite its success so far, the bill must be passed in the House and Senate, and then signed by the governor for the plan to be implemented.