“No one wants to do away with community colleges,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told James Politi of the Financial Times. Thank goodness! Now let’s hope the governor softens some of the hard-line approach of current Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti who recently advocated closing off part of the community college’s equity agenda.

“There are students who are so not ready and have no ability to be successful in a college classroom,” Meotti said in a recent Connecticut Mirror piece. “College readiness is one of the biggest reasons for that,” he said. “The goal of the community colleges should really be to have the capacity to serve everyone who stands to benefit.” 

These comments are problematic in that they have a faint whiff of profiling harking back to a distant past when most women and people of color were considered “not college material.”  It’s outdated thinking.  The bulk of research today shows that the achievement gap is due to the tragic gulf in income and education level of students’ parents. We certainly aren’t going to improve Connecticut’s current under-serving of its high school graduates of color by shutting them out of the community colleges merely because they need some developmental course work. This developmental work leads many of our at-risk students to real achievements in acquiring two year degrees and then bachelor’s degrees.

And with unemployment of recent Connecticut high school graduates at catastrophic levels, it would be cutting off our Nutmeg nose to spite our Nutmeg face if we closed the open-door to the community colleges.  What will these young citizens of Connecticut do if they can’t spend productive time at their local community college?  They will walk around the streets or hang out in malls with little or no money in their pockets, they’ll stay at home numbing their minds on video games and Facebook and sports broadcasts, they’ll tend to overuse alcohol, drugs, and junk-food, and some will turn to crime. It’s unrealistic to think they can find jobs; unemployment in this state is currently at 9.1 percent; for young urban high school grads the rate ranges from 20-35 percent.

Closing the open-door of the community colleges is a recipe for disaster for the future of Connecticut.  Lacking a workforce equipped with reading, writing, and math literacy, Connecticut’s future looks dim indeed. Reasonable people must face the fact that the state has an obligation and a necessity to further educate our high school grads so that they can fit into the positive future that is Governor Malloy’s, the legislature’s, and private industry’s task to carve out for Connecticut.  We have to quit believing that our only job is to grab our own individual slice of the pie and that everyone else can bootstrap him or herself up to success.  It doesn’t work that way, and thinking that it does is short-sighted and absurd. “The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet,” said long-time Nutmegger Mark Twain.

If the current higher ed administrators are truly planning to reduce access to the community colleges, then they will further exacerbate the already deplorable achievement gap in Connnecticut.  President Obama has put out a call for more college completion, but he is certainly not cynically looking for a cheap-fix where completion rates can be quickly and easily contrived by throwing the most at-risk students out of the equation.  And again, what do state leaders envision these young people doing with their time if they are not furthering their skills at a community college? Will the state provide them with one-way bus tickets to Florida?

Governor Malloy and the legislature must work closely with community college faculty in addressing these issues.  There are good administrators in the system, but there are also too many administrators who “game” the system for their own narrow career goals and pocket; look at the recent former CSU chancellor and the recently departed and very short-term president of UConn as examples.  Faculty members stay for the long haul, however, and they are very knowledgeable about the workings of the colleges and student needs.  Also, the 2011 SEBAC agreement with the state of Connecticut includes the following language:  “Harness the creativity and experience of front-line bargaining and non-bargaining unit state employees to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state government, and streamline and flatten organizational structures to concentrate on service delivery.”

Let’s do the right thing, just as we did the right thing in extending in-state tuition to undocumented students who attend Connecticut high schools for four years.  Let’s respect the equity agenda of the community colleges, and keep the door open for the students who have the greatest need for it.  The money can and must be found. The future of Connecticut depends on it.

Christine Japely is a tenured Prof. of English at Norwalk Community College and liberal arts transfer advisor.