Incoming students will pay no tuition or fees at Connecticut community colleges starting next fall under a plan approved by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents Thursday morning.
The Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT, is the system’s response to legislation passed last spring, and guarantees that eligible in-state, full-time, first-time students at the 12 campuses will not pay out-of-pocket for tuition or mandatory fees.
PACT is aimed at four goals, Board of Regents Finance Committee chair Richard Balducci said: to “mitigate excess debt for students and families, increase student enrollment within the community college sector, support student retention efforts across the system, and to support on-time credential completion.”
The effort “continues to showcase the importance of community colleges,” and “continues to focus on the community colleges as an engine for economic development for the future in the state of Connecticut,” President Mark Ojakian said.
To be eligible, students must have graduated from a Connecticut high school, live in the state, not have previously enrolled in an college or university, and be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester.
They also must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, the standard application for federal financial aid, to receive PACT aid.
PACT assistance will be available for up to three years or 72 credits in degree or certificate programs, and students must meet Satisfactory Academic Progress to continue to be eligible. The system’s policy for academic progress considers a student’s grade point average and compares the number of credits they earn to the number of credits attempted.
Like University of Connecticut’s free-tuition plan announced in October for certain students, PACT is a last-dollar scholarship; financial aid awards will cover any remaining costs of tuition and fees at the community colleges after any other federal, state and institutional aid awards are applied. Students whose full tuition and fees are covered by other aid will “be eligible for a $250 minimum award each semester,” according to the PACT Manual.
Currently, 50 percent of all community college students in the state already have their costs fully covered by financial aid, Balducci said.
Students can appeal if extenuating circumstances prevent them from enrolling full-time, from enrolling continuously or have other eligibility issues.
PACT awards will cover tuition and a number of mandatory fees: extension, college service, student activity and transportation fees, as well as “Mandatory Usage Fees,” such as clinical program fees, advanced manufacturing lab fees, supplemental course fees and material fees.
It’s expected to boost enrollment at the community colleges, which has been falling faster than officials expected. This fall, full-time enrollment fell by 4.7 percent, officials said at an October board meeting. PACT is projected to help attract more students to the community colleges; that could hurt enrollment at the four Connecticut State Universities, though CSCU Vice President for Enrollment Management Allison Buckley said that dip should only be temporary as students complete associate’s degrees and transfer to complete four-year degrees.
The program is projected to cost between $7 million and $15 million per year, according to a CSCU staff report to the board’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee.
“The statute requires the state to identify a funding source during the 2020 legislative session,” the staff report said. “In the event that insufficient resources are made available to CSCU, the program is designed to allow for pro-rating of grants or awarding on a first-come-first-served basis.”
Legislators intend the program to be funded by online lottery sales; however, a feasibility study on that has not been completed and legislation has not been passed to authorize iLottery.
A spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management confirmed that the study is underway, but did not respond when asked when it is expected to be finished. Connecticut Lottery Corporation counsel Andrew Walter told the Board of Directors in August that the study is due in early February, according to meeting minutes.
In September, the Board of Regents “formally requested an additional $20,090,876 be included in Governor Lamont’s FY 20-21 technical budget adjustments schedule to fund this program,” Ojakian wrote in a letter. That includes $2 million for planning and marketing the program, $1.4 million for additional advisers for students, and $16.6 million for the PACT student grants.