ctnewsjunkie file photo
Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

Make-up graduation ceremonies in the winter, emergency legislative certifications and pass-fail classes are just a few of the creative solutions Connecticut legislators and leaders are considering to make this non-traditional school-year more tolerable for students.

“For many [students] this has been a very difficult transition but they are resilient and they are working very hard,” Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System said Thursday during a conference call organized by Education Reform Now CT.

Delayed Graduation

As the reality of the coronavirus set in, Ojakian said it quickly became apparent that hosting 15,000 families in the XL Center for graduation would not be realistic this May.

“We’re finding ways, campus by campus, to celebrate the accomplishments in May in a variety of ways and also some of our institutions are looking to hold full ceremonies in the fall or the winter for students who want to participate,” Ojakian said.

Hartford Promise, a scholarship program for graduates of Hartford Public Schools, said it also plans to host a delayed graduation ceremony for the Hartford Promise Scholars set to graduate this year. This May was supposed to mark the first graduating class of Promise Scholars and the organization’s president, Richard Sugarman, still wants to ensure their accomplishments are recognized.

“We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that the promise scholars have a celebration, a recognition, honoring of them, uplifting them,” Sugarman said. “We are thinking of all sorts of creative ways of making that happen.”

Emergency Legislation

Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, co-chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee reassured constituents and Connecticut students that the state government “has their back.”

Haskell said he has been pushing for out-of-the-box solutions in his own committee to help students. He asked leaders in the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee to consider using the emergency certification process to pass bills with bipartisan support once it’s safe for the legislature to meet.

“These are bills that have already had a public hearing, already had bipartisan support to pass through in an abbreviated version of the session,” Haskell said.

The emergency certification process would allow lawmakers to put a whole bunch of bills into one giant bill without it having to go through the legislative process. It could simply get raised for an up or down vote.

One bill that might be included in a package like that would make it easier for students to access mental health services. The bill has bipartisan support. Haskell said this bill has the potential to help students now.

“We know that our universities in Connecticut are doing an exceptional job providing these services but we also know that less than 15% of students actually seek out those resources,” Haskell said.

Knowing where to reach out for crucial mental health resources is more crucial than ever due to the toll the pandemic is taking on students already suffering from depression and anxiety, Haskell said. This bill would make students more aware about tele-mental health services offered by state colleges during this time.

Pass-Fail Classes

The transition to online learning has prompted community colleges in Connecticut to switch to a pass-fail option for students this semester, according to Ojakian.

Ojakian has been working to ensure that the pass-fail credits will still be accepted by universities in the Connecticut state college system as well as independent colleges.

“[We are making sure that] students won’t be disadvantaged if they chose that path,” Ojakian said. “We are making every effort possible.”

Some other colleges in Connecticut, like Quinnipiac University in Hamden, are offering a pass-fail option for certain course subjects.