CT Post October 13, 2011

Anita Gliniecki:
Community college funding cuts: Penny wise, pound foolish?

Education to enter the work force comes in many forms: college degrees, apprenticeships, work-related classes and seminars, and on-the-job training -- all of which are vital for Connecticut's businesses and industries. The link between education and economic vitality of a state was stressed at the Governor's Economic Summit on Oct. 6. An educated work force helps to attract and retain businesses within Connecticut.

Connecticut has a long history of providing a myriad of educational opportunities to its citizens. Now that concept may be in jeopardy, especially at our community colleges. These two-year higher education institutions provide tens of thousands of students annually with the opportunity to focus on a specific career area and obtain an associate degree, while also providing an opportunity to prepare for the final years of a four-year college education.

But the once open and welcoming doors to our community colleges already are closing, and our state's dismal financial condition is hastening what could become a lockout of the very students who most benefit from the community and technical college system.

Earlier in the state budget season, a total of $50 million in higher education block grant money was cut, and that was followed up this fall by another $8 million in cuts. Since the block grants essentially fund instructors, the loss of these funds goes directly to class offerings that are being reduced, thus forcing some students out of the system.

Enrollment statistics for Housatonic Community College  show that 90 percent of our students are from our 11-town region of Greater Bridgeport. They graduate and tend to stay in Connecticut for their careers, contributing to our society and helping our communities prosper.

Today, employers seek employees who add value from their first day on the job -- they must be ready to think, learn, adapt and change -- all attributes our college prides itself on instilling in its students. HCC is providing the people needed by Connecticut employers -- graduates of our many programs who are ready to go to work and have the skills to make a contribution from day one.

But how much longer can we continue to provide this level of education to this many students if the budgets continue to be cut so dramatically?
To attain the education they need, our students need financial support in addition to the broad range of course offerings by our community colleges. While we look to the state for part of that funding, additional funds also are provided by parents and students through tuition and fees, as well as the HCC Foundation, which provides scholarships to deserving students.

On Nov. 19, Housatonic Community College alumni and guests will gather for the HCC Foundation's third annual Alumni Hall of Fame Gala , which is key to raising funds for scholarships. The black-tie event will be held in the Beacon Hall Events Center on the Bridgeport  campus and is a direct benefit to the students and the community.
The foundation's Scholarship Fund  distributes approximately $150,000 annually to deserving HCC students.

Paul Antinozzi, president of the HCC Foundation Board, said recently that "More than half of our student population is composed of minority students, most of whom are struggling financially. Although our annual tuition is only $3,490, that cost is still too high for many of them. The gala plays a critical role in providing needed funding for the scholarship program."

Housatonic Community College and the HCC Foundation are doing their part to raise the education and skill levels of tomorrow's workers in the Greater Bridgeport community. It is essential that we maintain these programs and provide the widest possible range of course offerings to continue with the success of our community colleges. As Governor Malloy meets with legislators to develop his jobs economic plan for Connecticut, support for all levels of education must be imbedded within the plan for Connecticut's future economic growth.

For the state to cut back on resources needed for continued success to education at this crucial juncture would be penny wise and pound foolish.
Anita Gliniecki is president of Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.