Hugh McQuaid Photo
Co-chairs Sen. Beth Bye and Rep. Roberta Willis (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Off to an early start, the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee voted Tuesday to raise 11 bills during the coming session – including one that will allow students attending state colleges to avoid taking remedial courses.

Sen. Beth Bye, D – West Hartford, said the committee will invite representatives from state universities to speak at a hearing for the bill, “An Act Concerning Open Access to College Level Courses,” but she doesn’t expect them to endorse it.

“Everyone has a pet pilot project,” Bye said. She added that the goal of the bill is to implement a uniform statewide policy.

Students who take more than two remedial classes – which eat up valuable college credits because they do nothing to advance students toward a degree –  are much more likely to drop out of college.

“We know students in remedial classes are not graduating,” Bye said. She added that those students often wind up with significant debt and waste money from federal Pell Grants.

Bye said the problem is that students enrolled in remedial classes become bored and discouraged by a repetitive curriculum. This bill will make it easier for hard-working students to earn a degree on their own terms.

“You can’t say no – anyone who wants to try can try,” Bye said.

Bye cited the success of the West Hartford School District’s decision to allow students to enroll in any Advanced Placement courses without having to take prerequisites as an example of what the bill is trying to accomplish.

Rep. Roberta Willis, D – Salisbury, said that passing every item on the committee’s agenda is “more challenging” during a shortened session. She added that she hopes the warm weather will prevent delays.

Willis said that the first item on the agenda, “An Act Concerning Sexual Violence on College Campuses,” failed to pass last session because of time constraints.

A hearing on that bill is scheduled for March 6. Willis said it was scheduled so far in advance to allow new UConn Police Chief Barbara O’Connor to attend.

“This is a field that she has expertise in,” Willis said.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R – New Canaan, said that the committee should make the rising cost of tuition a top priority.

“The access to higher education is a concern considering that the costs have gone up dramatically,” Boucher said.

Willis said that the committee must first consider whether to tackle that issue with legislation or address it during a hearing to explain “changes in tuition and fees.”

Rep. Pam Sawyer, R – Bolton, asked Willis if one of the draft bills, “An Act Concerning Open Access to College Level Courses,” would address the problem of students having to delay graduation because they cannot enroll in certain required classes.

The UConn Board of Trustees voted in December to raise tuition by about 6 percent each year for the next four years. Despite a cut in the state funding, UConn President Susan Herbst said that this revenue will only be used to hire more faculty. Additional faculty should allow the university to open more classes.

Sawyer said that whatever bill the legislature passes should allow for more “flexibility for the student.”