New Higher Education Bill Won’t Include State Schools Right Away
August Pelliccio – News Writer
A new house bill being put through Connecticut’s senate could make pursuing an associates degree completely free for some lower income students, but Beth Bye said the bill will not address bachelor’s degrees right away.
Bye, state senator, and chair for Connecticut’s higher education committee said in a phone interview, the initiative is rooted in a fundamental belief of hers, regarding how the state is run.
“Offering high quality public education is really important,” said Bye, “and Connecticut has a long history of that.”
Adam Joseph, communications director for senator Bob Duff, said the process began in the beginning of February, when a fair number of the democratic caucus members come together to propose a group of about 20 bills. HB-5731, he said, was part of the agenda for that session.
“Senator Duff certainly played a key role in that,” said Joseph.
He said Bye had been the one who in earnest was pushing for HB-5731, which has been colloquially titled, “Free to Start, Free to Finish.”
“We stared with a very broad bill,” said Bye. “What we were trying to do is encourage high school students to apply for FAFSA, because we know there’s a lot of federal money left on the table.”
She said as of right now, the bill proposes that up to $5 million will be put toward the initiative, with most of the funding being “leftover” federal aid money, and the last of it being filled in with state funds. This will cover qualifying low-income students for an associate’s degree at a community college, but Bye said the “free to finish” part might be scrapped.
“We were trying to include the CSU’s as well, helping kids finish,” said Bye, “but we were concerned that that would kill all of it.”
Bye said that other states that have introduced similar bills have found that many students are now studying whose parents never considered that they could go to community college virtually for free, via federal aid.
Exactly whom the bill includes, according to the text itself, is in-state, full time community college students who graduated high school within two years prior. Students who live in households that make less than 300 percent the federal poverty level and meet these criteria.
“This proposal in particular is the most ambitious proposal,” said representative Gregg Haddad in a March 8 press conference, “that attacks the increasing unaffordability of college in Connecticut, especially for low and middle income residents.”
Bye said the push to change something was inspired economic inequality that’s common in this country, to which the higher education system only adds. As the state keeps cutting funding for the CSU’s and UConn, Bye said she wanted prospective students to know that there is an option for virtually everyone.
She said the bill has had some opposition, but especially after deciding to leave out the bachelors support from the CSU system, Bye said there is a lot of support.
“It’s designed to open up opportunity and reduce student debt,” said Bye, “and to make people realize they do have an open door to college.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio