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Embracing Real Solutions for All Who Depend on Us

In the final hours of the General Assembly’s 2024 session, labor activists and students secured an infusion of resources into the state’s public higher education. Wynn Gadkar-Wilcox (in screenshot, above), a council member in our AFT Connecticut affiliated CSU-AAUP, laid out the case for action in an op-ed published just days before. He made a compelling argument for supporting “students individualized instruction in an accessible, nurturing, small school environment:”

I’ve worked with many nontraditional students during my time as a professor at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU, where Gadkar-Wilcox co-chairs the Department of History and World Perspectives). As the number of nontraditional students at colleges across the country continues to rise, I worry about our state’s ability to serve them with our public colleges and universities.

One of my early students was of Lebanese descent. She had a hard time finding her way at WCSU and struggled at first in classes on subjects that were not relevant to her. But when she discovered our offerings in Asian and Middle Eastern history and culture, something clicked. She became one of our best students and went on to a career in education and administration in the United Arab Emirates.

Another nontraditional student I taught wanted desperately to come back to school but had young children. Fortunately, she was able to take advantage of WCSU’s Child Care (later Early Learning) Center to drop off her young children while attending class. She told me several times that she could not have graduated without this outstanding feature of WCSU.

These are only two examples of students who enrolled at WCSU, graduated, and thrived because of programs that no longer exist – products of the consistent under-funding of Connecticut’s state universities. We have not offered courses in Middle Eastern history since 2020. Arabic is now offered only through independent study. Our Child Care Center closed in 2019, part of an earlier round of budget cuts.

Click here for national press reporting on the student learning crisis at WCSU created by austerity policies.

Now, the state has proposed another round of cuts to our system’s funding. The system has made it clear that without additional state funding, we will see more cuts to our services, programs, and staff. The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) Board of Regents (BOR) already voted to raise tuition by five percent starting in September.

This comes at a time when our enrollments are beginning to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. The working class and nontraditional students of our state are looking for affordable higher education options, especially in the Danbury area, where enrollment in public schools is steadily growing.

Click here for reporting on the BOR’s move to pass the cuts on to students and their families.

The impact of the budget cuts can be seen everywhere. Students struggle to find the courses that they need. Our student services are operating at perilously low staffing levels. Our library currently has five faculty members, down from 11 just three years ago, and cannot assist lower-division undergraduates with library instruction because of understaffing.

I’m proud to have taught at WCSU for nearly 20 years. I know we are a hidden gem. We are a great school with a dedicated faculty and staff. We are committed to giving students individualized instruction in an accessible, nurturing, small school environment. But we cannot make good on that commitment unless we have sufficient resources.

As a professor and member of the CSU faculty union, CSU-AAUP, I’m calling on our state’s leaders to find a way to fully fund the CSCU system. We are hopeful that the legislature will provide additional needed support.

Click here for reporting on the resources lawmakers allocated to public higher education before the General Assembly adjourned.

Our students will make up the future of Connecticut. They deserve affordable, high quality higher education.

Click here for Gadkar-Wilcox’s original published op-ed at CT Viewpoints.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.

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