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On The Chopping Block: Scholarships At Private Colleges And Universities

Grants to students who attend private institutions in Connecticut would be cut by 25 percent next year, then 50 percent

Kathleen Megan

February 21, 2011

Mackenzie Manning remembers hearing then-gubernatorial candidate Dannel P. Malloy talk repeatedly last fall about the importance of higher education to the state's economy.

So, when she learned that the newly elected governor's budget would cut and possibly eliminate scholarships for Connecticut students who attend in-state private colleges, Manning was dismayed.

"I understand the cuts have to come from somewhere," said Manning, a sophomore at the University of Hartford studying politics and government, "but cutting out students who want to make Connecticut their home I felt not angry, but disappointed."

Manning is one of more than 6,000 Connecticut students who face the loss of the need-based grants, which average $3,830 per year.

Malloy's proposed budget calls for a 25 percent cut in the $23.4 million Connecticut Independent College Student Grant Program in the next academic year, followed by a 50 percent cut the year after that.

After 2012-2013, the future of the program is uncertain.

Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said she has heard that it is likely that the program will be phased out in three or four years.

"The governor's proposal is a shocking repudiation of his own principles espoused during the campaign," Greiman said. "His campaign policy statement included an unambiguous understanding of the critical role that need-based aid plays in helping Connecticut's workforce remain strong."

She said that reducing or eliminating the program could force some students "to take a bigger loan, to delay college, to go elsewhere, or to drop out."

Manning, who received $7,000 through the student grant program this year, said that if her grant is reduced, she will have to consider working full time; she now juggles three part-time jobs. She also might have to move back home and commute to school rather than live on campus.

Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, said the cut was nothing that "anybody wanted to do," but the rationale was "to focus our resources more on public colleges and universities, although we made cuts there too."

"We're taking our medicine all at once in this budget," he said.

Barnes said it is possible that the scholarship program could expand again if the state's budget situation improves.

He also noted that the phased-in cuts were designed to ensure that current students retain their grants through graduation, while not extending grants to new students. However, college financial aid directors said that each institution would decide how to absorb the shortfall.

No Scholarship CutsAt Public Colleges

Malloy has recommended a 10 percent cut in the block grants targeted for the state's public colleges and universities. However, he made no cuts in the state-funded scholarship programs for students who attend state schools, called Connecticut Aid for Public College Students, with funding kept at the present level of $30.2 million for the next two years.

Greiman said both programs need to be funded.

As for the scholarships at private colleges, she said: "We expected a slight shave. We didn't expect a gouging, a decimation."

Greiman emphasized that the state's share of the cost per graduate is far less at private colleges than at state schools. That cost was $1,615 for a private college degree in 2008, she said, compared to $45,238 for a public sector degree.

Malloy's proposed budget also maintains funding for the next two years for the state's Capitol Scholarship Program, at $8.2 million. The Capitol scholars program is both need- and merit-based and follows the student to whatever school he or she attends, whether public or private, in Connecticut or not.

At several colleges, financial aid directors echoed Greiman's concerns. At Quinnipiac University, about 550 students received grants totaling $2.7 million last year.

"I'm not sure why this program was selected as the sacrificial lamb," said Dominic Yoia, Quinnipiac's director of financial aid. "It's kind of a cold slap in the face of every parent sending a kid to a private [college] Unfortunately, it will hurt the neediest students."

Greiman said needy students may be further undermined if the federal government follows through with a proposed cut in the federal Pell Grant program for low-income students.

Kelly O'Brien, director of financial aid at Trinity College, said that if the state's scholarship program is curtailed, Trinity might have to reassess whether it can continue to meet the full financial needs of its lower-income students, as it does now. The college will maintain its commitment to current students, she said, but in the future Trinity might be forced to accept fewer applicants who need financial aid.

At Goodwin College about 740 students received a total of about $1.1 million in the state-funded grants last year. Bill Mangini, Goodwin's director of financial aid, said these students "become productive citizens, yet the governor wants to, in effect, hurt this population. We are shocked."

Cassandra Parkman, a Goodwin College student, said she has been out of work for 18 months, cares for a disabled mother, and depends on the state scholarship program. Her grant this year is $3,275; she also gets a Pell grant and a federal loan.

"If you want people to stay in school and do well, taking the money away from us is not the thing to do," said Parkman, who hopes one day to have a job helping ex-inmates adjust to life in the community. "If I were to lose any money, I'd either have to cut back on the classes I'm taking or I'd just have to drop out because I'm not going to be able to afford it."

Courant staff writer Melissa Traynor contributed to this story.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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