Who is attending college in Connecticut – and who is not – was the central topic of conversation in Storrs and at the White House Thursday.
At a White House summit on expanding college opportunity, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (ConnSCU) system was among more than three dozen colleges, universities and systems issuing promises of specific policy steps to be taken to improve college access and completion rates, with a particular focus on low-income students. Connecticut Board of Regents President Gregory W. Gray was among those in attendance.
As part of the day-long summit, the White House released a 90-page “Commitments to Action” summary that included new commitments from over 100 colleges and universities and 40 organizations “to build on their existing efforts.” The steps the institutions will be taking follow calls from President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others to improve higher education opportunity in the United States, in response to the nation’s diminishing standing compared with other nations.
As education, business and nonprofit officials were meeting in Washington, the University of Connecticut, the state’s flagship institution, announced that the number of high school students seeking admission to UConn’s Storrs campus next fall has jumped significantly over last year’s figures, comprising a pool of potential freshmen with even higher average SAT scores and more diversity than previous years’ applicants.
More than 29,500 students applied as of Wednesday’s due date, a 10 percent increase over last year’s number, according to UConn officials. The number of minority applicants also increased by 16 percent – described as an important consideration in UConn’s commitment to diversity. Officials pointed out that the jump in UConn applications runs counter to national and regional trends in which declines in the number of high school graduates have caused many universities to see their applications and enrollments level off or decrease.
Enrollment Moving in Opposite Directions
The Board of Regents system – which includes more than 90,000 students attending the state’s 17 public colleges and universities (except UConn, which is outside the system) – has seen the largest drop in students among the state’s public and private higher education sectors. At Connecticut's four state universities (Central, Eastern, Southern, Western), enrollment was down 2.2 percent to 34,062 this year compared to 2012, reflecting the continued losses in the number of part-time graduate students. Enrollment at the community colleges fell 2.1 percent to 56,977, reflecting losses in both full and part time students.
Full-time undergraduate enrollment among member institutions of the private Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC) rose by nearly 2.5 percent this past fall. In fact, nine of the 16 CCIC member institutions had an increase in enrollment and five of these institutions hit new enrollment records: Goodwin College, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, University of New Haven, and the University of Saint Joseph. In contrast, only five of twenty three public institutions showed an increase in enrollment.
According to Thursday’s newly released White House document, “Connecticut commits to planning an evaluation of pilot data to assess and improve upon efforts to implement remediation redesign throughout post-secondary institutions in the state. Efforts will support improvements to remediation curriculum and practices on campuses.” One of the panel discussion Thursday in Washington D.C. focused on the remediation issue, in which students graduating high school but not quite ready for college have traditionally taken non-credit bearing courses to prepare for college.
Focus on Remediation
The Connecticut legislature in 2012 passed a new law that requires public colleges to embed remedial education in credit-bearing courses, with extra tutoring and assistance for students who need remedial help. The bill had concerned some faculty at the institutions, who felt that abolishing all remedial classes would be unworkable, considering the learning deficiencies of some incoming students. Beginning with the Fall 2014 semester, the new law allows institutions to offer a student no more than one semester of non-embedded remedial support.
Connecticut will be hosting two upcoming events focusing on the remediation issue, the White House report indicated:
- A“Multiple Measures Summit,” which will offer information and applicability of various methods of placement assessment for consideration of state community colleges and universities.
- A “Remediation Conference,” which “will serve as an opportunity for state-wide collaboration outlining best practices of the piloting of intensive, embedded and transitional remedial education initiatives. Data results will be shared along with ideas for scalability.”
The “Commitments to Action” document also notes that “The Board of Regents is currently conducting 139 pilots consisting of both math and English, intensive and embedded programming across the 17 ConnSCU institutions… Data will be analyzed by institution and system faculty/administration to highlight challenges for adaptation and strengths for duplication.” It has been estimated that by 2020, 70 percent of Connecticut’s jobs will require post-secondary education.
Among UConn’s larger applicant pool, several stand-out programs – including engineering, business, digital media, and allied health sciences – are among the disciplines that saw significant increases in interest from the potential new UConn students who applied for admission. With substantial financial support from the Governor and state legislature, UConn is investing in new faculty, updating its academic plan, and planning for the Next Generation Connecticut initiative to revolutionize its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula.
UConn will begin notifying this year’s applicants with offers of admissions starting March 1, with the targeted new class of Storrs freshmen estimated to be around 3,550 students. The number of applicants has more than doubled since 2001, when the University received about 13,600 applications.
UConn’s Next Generation Connecticut initiative, a $1.5 billion 10-year state-funded investment, is expected to attract $270 million in research dollars, $527 million in new business activity, and fund the hiring of 259 new faculty members and the enrollment of an additional 6,580 undergraduate students, as well as the construction of new labs and facilities, expansion of digital media and risk management degree programs and development of student housing at UConn’s Stamford campus.
President Obama has set a goal of having the United States achieve the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. The U.S., which was once ranked #1 in the world, has fallen from the top 10, and current projections indicate that decent will continue without corrective actions, such as those outlined by participants in the White House-led effort.