Having a population with a high percentage of college graduates is one important predictor of economic growth for cities, states and countries. Yet, over the past 30 years the United States fell from first to 14th in the world in percent of degree holders.
Connecticut is not immune from such concerns. Although historically one of the richest states, the gap between the haves and have-nots is ever increasing. Although still fourth in the percentage of adults with a college degree, we are 19th in the percentage of the population with a high school diploma. Of greater concern, we are below the national average, and 37th of all states, in the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college.
These trends need to change. To substantially modify the percentage of the adults with degrees in Connecticut, either we need to greatly increase the number of degree holders we import or, more appropriate, educate a much higher percentage of Connecticut residents.
How is that possible? Real change will not occur by trading students among existing institutions. For example, 300 more students enrolling at the University of Connecticut is a good thing for the state, unless concurrently there is a reduction of 300 students at other state institutions. There must be an across-the-board increase of student participation in post-secondary education.
My purpose is not to complain about additional resources allocated by the state to the University of Connecticut. I think it may be money well spent, and time will tell.
Yet, trading students among institutions will not benefit the people, nor the state. There is another side to the degree completion equation that is equally important: growing the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. Formed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, this system brought four universities, 12 community colleges and one online college into an entity governed by one board. As an idea, it is neither good nor bad; it can only be judged in value by the results achieved by each school.
Has the percentage of college graduates in the Connecticut workforce increased? Has the college participation gap between students of color and white students been reduced? Has the pipeline of students beginning in Connecticut's community colleges and transferring to the state universities increased? So, has the plan worked? It hasn't yet — but, yes, it can.
For these benefits to be realized, certain things must occur:
1. Stop complaining and blaming the merger of institutions for every problem in Connecticut higher education, many of which existed before the merger.
2. Stop the musical chairs of leadership at the top of the system. In the 28 months since Feb. 27, 2011, I have reported to six different chancellors/presidents, two boards and three chairmen. We must put our full support behind Gregory Gray as leader of our system.
3. Stop coveting what others have received, as it most likely has been well deserved.
4. Start building the plan to realize the immense potential of the largest university system in the state, with approximately 95,000 students.
5. Start taking full advantage of the state's only public online university.
6. Recognize that the best way to increase the percentage of college graduates is by working with the demographic groups with the most room for improvement.
The future at Central Connecticut State University is bright. We are one of the least expensive and highest quality educational alternatives available to Connecticut residents. Our student body is 95 percent Connecticut residents. Our graduation rate has increased by 12 percent in recent years. The value of our endowment from private gifts has almost tripled since 2005. The amount of financial aid awarded has almost doubled to more than $95 million a year. We are ranked 17th in the nation in closing the graduation gap between blacks and whites. Many of the same things can be said for our 16 colleague institutions in the colleges and universities system.
It is time for a Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system plan designed to grow the economy and to lead the way to a better quality of life for all Connecticut citizens.
Jack Miller is president of Central Connecticut State University.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun