09 March 2008
The earning power of college graduates versus those whose highest attainment is a high school diploma favors the former by a wide margin. In central Connecticut, it doesn't really matter anymore if you want a job as an analyst at an insurance company or fill out an application at a small manufacturer to build parts on the shop floor. You will need post-secondary skills to fill decent paying jobs in our regional economy.
That's what makes State Rep. Timothy O'Brien's legislation to eliminate in-state tuition for students at UCONN, the state universities and the community colleges intriguing. So intriguing that O'Brien's proposal has drawn considerable press coverage, including a February 21 story in the Meriden Record-Journal.
House Bill 5261 "will eliminate all tuition and fees for in-state residents" and proposes "that funding be increased to offset the costs" of eliminating in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. While many would call the O'Brien idea unaffordable, the need to make college and post-secondary training opportunities available is broadly recognized as a key to retaining jobs and a stronger economy.
O'Brien's idea is not new. Free public education is an idea deeply rooted in the American egalitarian ideal. Once upon time California was a K-graduate school system without tuitions and fees. And last year MA Governor Duval Patrick, a business friendly Democrat, proposed a guarantee that the 12 community colleges in his state be open and tuition-free.
According to the Record Journal, O'Brien recognizes the current reliance on student tuition and fees to meet operating costs: "O'Brien's bill would require students who did not pay tuition and fees for the duration of college to pay a fixed rate for a certain amount of time after they graduate, depending on their income. If they move out of state, however, the students would be required to pay back the full amount."
Says O'Brien: "I introduced this legislation because I think that it is time that Connecticut start talking about the fact that high tuition and fees at our public institutions of higher education is a growing barrier to a college education for many people in our state, even if good financial aid is available for students." O'Brien emphasizes that the bill is also an effort to stem a "brain drain" that will encourage young people to stay in Connecticut.
While O'Brien concedes that House Bill 5261 will likely go no where in a short legislative session. He knows it opens an important discussion on educational access and economic policy that will not end with the close of the General Assembly this year.
Post originally appeared at http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com