On June 5, 2019, The Journal Inquirer published an article by Will Healey regarding a debt-free community college program and mentioned ConnCAN:

HARTFORD — House and Senate Democratic legislators gathered together Tuesday to tout the creation of a debt-free college program through the passage of the 2020-21 biennial state budget.

The program, which would cover the portion of a student’s first three years or 72 credits of community college tuition and fees not covered by federal financial aid, would ideally be paid through revenue gained by allowing the Connecticut Lottery to offer its existing lottery draw games online.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, called the initiative “critically important” for the state’s future.

“As we know, more and more jobs of the future will absolutely require education beyond high school,” he said. “There is really not a path to success in the middle class now without a post-secondary education.”

Looney said many students are juggling jobs, families, and other financial considerations, and the debt-free program will help them. He said Connecticut has the third-highest accumulated student loan debt in the country, a reality that he said “influences where college graduates decide to live and what careers they are able to pursue.”

“This legislation will change that and allow students attending regional-technical colleges to graduate without debt and encourage them to start their careers in our state,” he said.

The program starts in the fall of 2020. It is open to any graduate of an in-state public or private high school enrolling for the first time as a full-time student. Students must have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and accept all available financial aid that is not in the form of a federal, state, or private student loan.

According to Senate Democrats, the initiative could increase community college enrollment by up to 2,310 students in the first year of the program. They said the program’s $2 million startup and $6.1 million first year costs would be partially offset by an estimated $7.6 million in new tuition revenue, some of which comes from additional federal funding.

But the state is hoping that would be paid for through a yet-to-be created revenue stream. The legislation creating the program calls for the governor to consult with the Connecticut Lottery, attorney general, and consumer protection commissioner to determine the feasibility of using revenue from new online lottery gaming to fund the program. If the online lottery route isn’t feasible, the legislation calls for the governor to propose budget adjustments to cover the program’s cost.

Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, House chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said Tuesday he thought the online lottery funding would be enough to cover the cost of the program. Asked what would happen in the event that funding doesn’t materialize, Haddad said he believed the funding source would be worked out in time for the fall 2020 start date.

Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, Senate chairman of the higher education committee, said the program was developed in consultation with the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System. Haskell said the program was designed to help the “long-term fiscal sustainability of our community college campuses.”

CSCU President Mark Ojakian thanked Haskell and other members of the committee for their efforts.

“I appreciate the leaders of the higher education committee for working closely with the CSCU team on workable language that aligns with the Board of Regents’ goal of increasing access and affordability of higher education,” he said.

Subira Gordon, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said the program is a positive step toward addressing Connecticut’s low college graduation rates among minorities.

“Connecticut is at the bottom three for kids of color graduating from college, so this is super important,” she said.

Sen. M. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, one of several Democratic legislators supportive of the program, called it an “investment in our future.”

“We need to make sure that the next generation of our workforce is more focused on their education and achieving their potential rather than worrying about their abilities to pay, and that is what’s going to separate America from other parts of the world,” he said.


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