In a press conference on Friday morning, a group of state legislators called for legislation that would help fund the Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT, the state’s program to ensure students across the state can attend community college without incurring debt.
The Board of Regents for Higher Education voted in December to spend $3 million in reserves to fund PACT through the spring semester, but warned that without a permanent funding stream, the program was in jeopardy.
The lawmakers said that the passage of the gaming bill, which is currently being drafted by the Public Safety and Security Committee, could fund PACT, which currently lacks a long-term funding mechanism, with revenues from an internet lottery. The gaming bill would expand types of gaming in Connecticut like internet lottery, internet gaming, and sports betting,
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said that in the short-term, the state should allocate the remaining $13 million in funds from a former partnership with Dalio Education to fund PACT for four more semesters until the iLottery program can provide a permanent stream of funding.
According to Osten, the bill would help eastern Connecticut employers find more qualified employees locally.
“Down in eastern Connecticut, Electric Boat is starving for more workers,” Osten said. “This program will help train those people and get them into those good-paying, local jobs that support our economy.”
More than 3,000 students across Connecticut have enrolled in the program, and more than half of those who signed up for PACT found that their community college tuition would already be covered by federal aid.
Established in 2019, PACT covers the gap between federal and state grants and the cost of community college, meaning enrolled students incur no fees to attend Connecticut’s community colleges full-time.
“Here in the state of Connecticut, we rely on our workforce to propel our economy,” said State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. “We don’t have natural gas fields or oil wells. Our natural resources are our people. Ensuring we have a well-educated workforce to meet the needs of the jobs of the 21st century and beyond is exactly why PACT is so important.”
Students who have benefitted from PACT also joined lawmakers at the press conference to share what the program has meant to their education.
“PACT is a security net,” said Lilia Burdo, who attends Three Rivers Community College in Norwich and hopes to become a public school teacher. “I really hope funding issues can be resolved, because I would like my sister to have the same exact opportunity that I have today.”
Christopher Rosario, a student at Housatonic Community College, said knowing he can graduate debt-free has helped his mental health.
“PACT has been a life-saver for me,” Rosario said. “In college, not having that anxiety of figuring out how I’m going to make the payments at the end of the semester has allowed me the time to focus more on my studies.”
Other legislators joining the press conference included Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, State Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, and State Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington.