Collegiate Greek Life Leaders Descend on Hartford, Again

Hotel rooms were relatively scarce in downtown Hartford this past weekend as the Northeast Greek Leadership Association attracted about 1,000 college students involved in leading their campus fraternities and sororities to the Capitol City for the regional organization’s annual conference. The NGLA filled rooms at the Marriot and Hilton downtown, with overflow rooms at the Holiday Inn for the conference held at the Connecticut Convention Center, February 23 – 26.  The conference has become somewhat of a tradition in Hartford, held in the city in alternate years.

NGLA provides educational training and leadership development for collegiate fraternity and sorority members from college campuses across the northeast, and “builds community among students from a variety of fraternal experiences, challenges members to align their actions with fraternal values, and empowers advocates to transform and improve their communities,” the organization’s website points out.

“Hartford has always graciously welcomed our conference and its 1000+ conference attendees from across the northeast. We are thrilled to be back at the Convention Center,” said Emily Perlow, Chairman of the association’s Board of Directors. 

This year’s program highlights included education on motivating members, values based decision making, diversity and inclusion, and sexual assault prevention. Students, campus based professionals, national fraternity and sorority professionals and volunteers, as well as vendors and speakers attend the event, which offers a range of educational opportunities for participants.

The program also includes an Advisors Academy, which was recognized as an Outstanding Educational Program by the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors. There also is programming specifically for culturally based fraternities and sororities and local fraternities and sororities. In addition, opportunities to “sit with brothers and sisters from the region at the affiliation luncheon.”  The weekend culminates with a closing banquet during which NGLA Awards are presented, recognizing outstanding achievement.

Among the sessions held during the conference: Curiosity, Courage and Cake: Surviving Mental Illness Through Sisterhood; Know Better/Do Better: A Frank Talk About Campus Racism; and Retaking Our Story: Reframing the Sexual Assault Conversation.  Speakers providing insight for the student leaders address topics including: Be An Action Hero: The 4 Traits of High Impact Leaders; Why We Need to Talk with Our Members About Race and Every Student Needs to Know About Alcohol.

NGLA, which formed in 2011 with the merger of two fraternal organizations in the region, states as its vision:

  • Fraternities and sororities in the northeast provide co-curricular learning experiences that prove to be essential in furthering the mission of their host institution
  • Fraternities and sororities in the northeast are high performing and are looked to as a model of best practices
  • Fraternities and sororities members in the northeast can articulate their founding principles, strive to live these principles, and challenge peers whose behavior is inconsistent with these principles.
  • NGLA is known to members on every campus as a valuable resource that provides a demonstrated return on investment.

There were just over one thousand attendees at last year’s conference in Pittsburgh, PA.  The conference returns to Pittsburgh next year, and then will be back in Hartford in 2019.

College Debt Continues to Climb; Connecticut Students Graduate with 3rd Highest Loan Debt in US

Nearly two-thirds of students who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in Connecticut in 2015 had student loan debt averaging $34,773, the third highest level in the nation.  The state ranked 14th in the percentage of students graduating with debt, according to data compiled by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). Student debt continues to rise for new graduates, across the country and in Connecticut.  Student debt at graduation ranged from $15,521 for Yale University graduates to $47, 715 at Sacred Heart University and $47,873 at Quinnipiac University.

At public and nonprofit colleges in 2015, seven in 10 graduating seniors (68%) had student loans. Their average debt was $30,100: up four percent compared to the Class of 2014. About one-fifth of 2015 graduates’ debt (19%) was in private (non-federal) loans, which are typically more costly and provide far fewer consumer protections and repayment options than federal student loans, the Institute pointed out.

At institutions across the country, state averages for debt at graduation in 2015 ranged from $18,850 to $36,100, and new graduates’ likelihood of having debt ranged from 41 percent to 76 percent.

In 12 states, including Connecticut, average debt was more than $30,000 – up from six states the year before. High-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, with low-debt states mainly in the West. Average debt at the college level varies even more, from a low of $3,000 to a high of $53,000, and the share graduating with loans ranges from seven percent to 100 percent.

“Student debt is still rising, and the typical college graduate now leaves school with over $30,000 in loans,” said TICAS president Lauren Asher. “We need to make college more affordable and debt less burdensome for students and families.”

The states with the highest debt levels for graduating students, according to the TICAS study, are New Hampshire ($36,101); Pennsylvania ($34,798); Connecticut ($34,773); Delaware ($33,849) and Rhode Island ($32,920).  At the other end of the spectrum, students graduation from colleges in Oklahoma have the lowest average debt ($24,849), followed by Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.



PERSPECTIVE: Consider the Meaning of Language Before You Use It – Or Prepare to Lose

by Paul Steinmetz A university is a wonderful place to work if you like the energy of young people, smart coworkers who are trained to challenge the status quo, and the clanging excitement that the combination creates. You will also notice that the inhabitants of universities and colleges sometimes get themselves knotted up in problems that others don’t face, and they often involve the use of language.

One reason for these issues is that there are a lot of constituencies of higher education, and trying to please them all might be impossible.

Complicating the situation, colleges and universities are often at the forefront of trends in lifestyle and other thinking, which means the words we use to describe these new things are not well defined or accepted. It’s very easy to be well-meaning and yet upset someone.

Finally, you have professors who are very definite in their opinions and students who are enthusiastic in their challenge of such opinions.

The occasional result: chaos, misunderstanding and anger.

perspective squareHere are a few examples:

At the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, an administrative office published a guide of pronouns that transgender people might prefer. The list included ze and hir or zir instead of he/she and her or him. Xe and xem would take the place of they and them.

The education trade journal Inside Higher Ed reported that the guide “created a political uproar in the state.” The university president ordered the guide removed from the UT website, saying, “The social issues and practices raised by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion are appropriate ones for discussion on a university campus. However, it was not appropriate to do so in a manner that suggests it is the expectation that all on campus embrace these practices.”

At Washington State University, a professor wrote a syllabus that banned the use of certain words in class and promised punishment to any students who used the words.

From the syllabus:

“Use of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, classist or generally offensive language in class or submission of such material will not be tolerated. (This includes ‘The Man,’ ‘Colored People,’ ‘Illegals/Illegal Aliens,’ ‘Tranny’ and so on — or referring to women/men as females or males.)”language quote

The university administration acknowledged that the professor was attempting to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for everyone. But it pointed out that the syllabus probably violates the First Amendment and ordered all professors “to ensure that students’ right to freedom of expression is protected along with a safe and productive learning environment.”

Finally, you might think that the definition of genocide is clear-cut, but it’s not. Sacramento State University in California is the most recent institution to teach us this.

A sophomore there says her professor threatened to kick her out of class after she allegedly challenged his statement that the term “genocide” wasn’t appropriate for U.S. settler and government actions against American Indians.

Again according to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the professor allegedly said that genocide implies intention and, in his opinion, most native people were killed by European diseases.

The student said she was “enraged” by that statement and a couple of days later she debated the professor in class and began reading out loud the United Nations’ 1948 definition of genocide. The professor asked her to stop, inviting her to talk to him after class rather than “hijack” his lesson. Social media and bloggers reported on the confrontation and the university is investigating exactly what happened in the classroom. (The Inside Higher Ed article offers examples of the many variables considered in deciding what is and what isn’t considered genocide.)

Although none of these situations occurred at the university where I work, I pay attention to them because it would be my task, along with many others, to advise on a response to such an uproar should it happen here.

As a professional writer and public relations practitioner, I often say that anticipating problems and addressing possible issues is usually better for an organization, and individuals, than moving ahead without thinking about the consequences of words. Language is sometimes volatile and has the potential to convey things not intended if mishandled. My other advice is that, when about to engage in potentially controversial activity, you should always let the boss know what you are doing. He/she/ze might later backtrack, but at least you have communicated thoughtfully and clearly. And that is what is important.


Paul Steinmetz is director of Public Affairs & Community Relations at Western Connecticut State University. As the founder of Writing Associates, he consults on writing issues for businesses and individuals. If you want to discuss a writing issue, contact him at

PERSPECTIVE commentaries by contributing writers from across the state appear each Sunday on Connecticut by the Numbers.

Alternate College Ranking System Reveals Surprises for CT Colleges

It turns out that the oft-heralded and increasingly criticized U.S. News & World Report college rankings aren’t the only game in town.  Washington Monthly magazine has developed a rating system with a different emphasis, and very different results.  Among the Connecticut institutions making the list:  UConn, Yale, Wesleyan, and Trinity – but not necessarily in familiar places. The publication uses three main categories of evaluation for its analysis.  Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country). The publ1409.cover.220x286ication sets out to “identify the most public-minded institutions,” utilizing the three criteria and a handful of specific measures in each.

“Instead of crediting colleges that reject the most applicants, we recognize those that do the best job of enrolling and graduating low-income students,” the magazine pointed out.  The rankings also “measure both pure research spending and success in preparing undergraduates to earn PhDs.”  In addition, by “giving equal weight to public service, we identify colleges that build a sense of obligation to their communities and the nation at large,” the publication explained in the cover feature of the September/October issue.

Connecticut did not have an institution reaching the Top 30 National Universities.  That list was led by four University of California institutions in the top five slots, along with Texas A&M and Stanford University.  Harvard University placed tenth.

Yale University ranked #57 on the full list of National Universities. UConn ranked #82 - the only other school in the state listed among 277 institutions.  (Yale is ranked #3 in the U.S. News rankings; UConn places 19th)

The magazine also compiled a series of specialty lists ranking the institutions.

The only Connecticut school to reach the nation’s Top 30 Liberal Arts Colleges was Wesleyan University, which ranked #16.  (Wesleyan is ranked #15 on the U.S. News listing.) Further down the list, Trinity College ranked #184.

Among the “best-bang-for-the-buck” colleges, the University of Connecticut ranked #76, the only Connecticut college to break into the top 100.  That list was topped by three City University of New York colleges.colleges

Four Connecticut schools were among the Top 50 “Affordable Elite” institutions, according to the list compiled by the magazine.  Yale University ranked #33, Wesleyan University placed #40, UConn ranked #97 and Trinity College in Hartford just made the list at #98.

In the good news department, there were no Connecticut school reaching the “worst colleges” lists complied by the magazine.

The Social Mobility category includes four components including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, the cost of attendance, and the anticipated rate of graduation.   The five Research factors include research expenditures and the number of bachelors degree recipients who go on to earn PhDs  The Service category includes five factors including the number of alumni who serve in the Peace Corps, student participation in community service and the number of staff supporting community service.

Signaling the importance of the Washington Monthly rankings to colleges across the nation, a total of 47 institutions ran advertisements in the issue.  The advertisers did not include any colleges from Connecticut.


University of New Haven Named a “Best for Vets” College

The University of New Haven (UNH) has been ranked among the nation’s best colleges for veterans.  The 2014 “Best for Vets Colleges” list, developed by Military Times, places New Haven among the top 80 institutions in the nation, ranking at number 59.  UNH is the only higher education institution from Connecticut to earn a place on the list.

In addition to ebfv-colleges-2014valuating schools’ veteran-focused operations, the publication considered more than a dozen different measures of academic success, quality and rigor, as reported by schools and the Education Department, to develop the rankings.

Representatives of about 600 schools responded to the Best for Vets: Colleges 2014 survey, comprising of 150 questions that delved into school operations in unprecedented detail, according to the publication.

The results indicated that many more schools are tracking the academic success of their military and veteran students — but the majority still do not.  Last year, fewer than 11 percent of school representatives responding to the survey said they track completion rates for current and former service members. This year, more than a third said they track similar academic success measures for such students, the publication’s website pointed out.660556

Military veterans of UNH (MVUNH) is a Student Group formed to both support current UNH Veteran student and encourage a UNH "Veteran friendly" campus to attract new Veteran students.  The university’s purpose is to create a community of veterans who will use their knowledge and experiences to educate the university community and advocate on behalf of student veterans.  Members meet once a month to discuss current events and provide new information.

The newly renovated and furnished Veterans Success Center on the UNH campus serves as common place for students to study, gather for MVUNH club meetings and relax.  The Center has four computers with access to printing, a microwave and refrigerator available to student veterans to use during breaks between classes.  The Veteran Success Center is heralded as a great place to meet fellow veterans and find out about veteran programming on campus and within the community.

In an effort to strengthen support for student veterans, Veteran Services and the University of New Haven have created a Student Veteran Emergency Fund.  Entirely dependent upon donations, the Student Veteran Emergency Fund has been established to assist student veterans who encounter an unforeseen financial emergency throughout the semester, including a delay iLove Your Country1n benefits, BAH and book stipends from the VA.

The University of New Haven is also a partner of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, located in West Haven.  VITAL is a VA initiative aimed to support student veterans on campus in their successful transition to academia and in completion of their educational goals.  The University also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program for veterans.

CT Should Look to New York, Aging Workforce, Urban Centers to Rebuild Economy

Connecticut would be foolish not to take greater advantage of the fact that nearly one-third of the state is within the financial orbit of New York City as it looks to rebuild its economic strength – while not overlooking the potential for entrepreneurial activity across the state.

Those were among the lead suggestions of a panel of economists and entrepreneurs at the University of Hartford looking at job prospects for today’s 20-somethings, in a program sponsored by CT Mirror.

Daniel Kennedy, Senior Economist in the Office of Research at the state Department of Labor emphasized that the strongest economic growth in the state in the years to come will be in Fairfield County, and evidence of that trend is already present in the current economic recovery.

Wayne Vaughn, president of Hartford-based Fuscient, which he launched in 1997, said the state should “play to its strengths,” in looking to Fairfield County.  He said that New York City's immense economy "bleeds over into one-third of our state."  He also called on the state’s colleges and universities to step up efforts to match students with mentors in the business community, to improve their workforce readiness.

The state’s college graduates should not sell the state short, offered Katelyn Anton, Community Manager of New Haven-based Independent Software, and a key contributor to Whiteboard, a popular blog for the technology and entrepreneurial community in the state.  “Connecticut is one of the ripest locations in the world,” for start-up ventures, she said, panelnoting the growth of co-working spaces in New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Manchester and other communities, and the numerous incubator opportunities that individuals “can tap into.”

Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) economist and vice president Peter Gioia predicted that the state’s economy is “on the cusp of turning the corner,” noting that between 15 and 20 percent of today’s workforce will be retired within five years – creating job vacancies and opportunities for young people.  He predicted that as the workforce ages out of the market, the state’s workforce will need electrical line workers, plumbers, electricians, commercial loan officers, actuaries and financial planners, and some of that need is already apparent.

Gioia praised the state’s recent efforts to bolster the University of Connecticut and the state’s community colleges, underscoring the correlation between “where students go to school and where they get their first job.”  If students stay in the state for college, Connecticut businesses will ultimately benefit.

Kennedy said the state’s prolonged economic recovery is characterized by continued “demand deficient unemployment,” which is more structural than merely a reaction to the national downturn that began in 2008.  He indicated that even as some sectors are improving, many millennials remain underemployed -college graduates working in service, rather than professional, industries.

“More people are working, but they’re not making as much,” said Orlando Rodriguez, a senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children.  “For every job we lose in the financial industry, it takes eight and a half jobs in the restaurant industry.”

Rodriguez also raised a cautionary note, stating that Connecticut should be particularly concerned about young people in the state’s urban centers who do not attend college, and often are unable to obtain a first job. While statewide unemployment hovers around 8 percent, it can run as high as 40 percent among 18-24 year olds in Bridgeport and other urban communities. “Connecticut’s future,” Rodriguez said, “is in urban areas.”

Gioia was strongly critical of Congressional inaction on immigration reform, stating that the nation’s economy would be strengthened by a comprehensive policy.  “Immigrants are much more likely to start a business, and become net employers of Americans.”  He said the policy of educating foreign students, but not permitting them to then remain in the U.S., as “ridiculous.”  He also cited Canada as an example of a nation that has been more welcoming of immigrants, to the benefit of the nation’s economy.

Vaughn said that while his biggest challenge in doing business in Connecticut is retaining talent, the growth of technology in business transactions offers businesses here significant opportunities.  “Where your business is located doesn’t dictate who your customers are,” he said.

The discussion was the second of nine panels on a range of topics sponsored by The Connecticut Mirror to be held around the state in coming months.  It was moderated by Brett Ozrechowski, CEO-Publisher of the CT News Project, which operates CT Mirror.  Next month, discussions will be held  Nov. 7 at Fairfield University focused on measuring good teaching and Nov. 18 at the University of New Haven on the topic of the clean energy economy.

Student Debt Continues to Climb; CT is 5th Highest in USA

Two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 per borrower, up from $25,250 in 2010, according to a recent report from the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).  The loan burden of Connecticut college students, on average, exceeded the national average. The top-five leading high-debt states were New Hampshire ($32,440), Pennsylvania ($29,959), Minnesota ($29, 793), Rhode Island ($29,097)and Connecticut ($28,783).  In addition, 64 percent of Connecticut college students have debt, which places the state 15th in the nation.

The five-percent increase from 2010 to 2011 is similar to the average annual increase in recent years. The report also found that about two-thirds of the Class of 2011 had loans, and that private (non-federal) student loans comprised about one-fifth of what they owed.

The report’s findings focus solely on public and private nonprofit four-year colleges, because so few for-profit colleges chose to report the necessary data. However, federal survey data show that nationwide, graduates of for-profit four-year colleges are much more likely to borrow federal and private student loans, and they borrow significantly more than their counterparts at other types of colleges.

Utah and Hawaii had the lowest and second lowest average debt at $17,250 and $17,450.

In looking at the institutions specifically, the only Connecticut higher education institution to reach the top 20 High-Student Debt Public Colleges was the University of New Haven.   Among the top 20 “low-debt” institutions was Yale University.