A Look At A Regional School: Central Connecticut State University
I visited Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) on route to visit family in the Hartford area.
The visit made me think about this question: what should a regional public university do for the students in its primary market?
- Keep tuition and fees as low as possible
- Accommodate a commuter and resident population with adequate parking and affordable housing
- Guide students towards their degree and help them to make connections for internships, jobs and further education
That does not mean that the school needs to be selective. CCSU admits around two-thirds of the students who applied to join the freshman class that arrived two years ago. The average GPA was a 3.1 with an average SAT of 1070 and an average ACT composite of 21. Admissions to the Nursing program are more competitive. Less that half of the prospective Nursing freshmen who apply are accepted.
Are tuition and fees as low as possible?
CCSU charges approximately $11,000 for tuition and fees for a full time resident student. At first that sounded high. But tuition and fees at UConn’s main campus will set a Connecticut family back more than $17,000. A student who would be mid-pack at UConn might also receive a scholarship that drops the price further. The non-resident charges total around $24,000. That, too does not seem too bad, especially if you are interested in one of CCSU’s signature programs including Biomolecular Sciences, Business, Construction Management, Criminal Justice, Earth Sciences, Education, Engineering Technology (multiple options), Geography and Nursing.
It is realistic given the mix of majors that students who chose CCSU considered UConn and the other state colleges in Connecticut as well as private schools such as Quinnipiac University, Western New England University the University of Hartford and the University of New Haven. But it was also realistic that several considered community college.
One common theme that I heard on this campus: students have carried reduced course loads or struggled with overloads because they had to work more hours than reasonably expected for a college student to cover costs. This is more of a concern at CCSU than it might be at UConn. CCSU’s charges are already lower, and only three percent of the undergraduates come from out of state. UConn has enough attractions and housing to draw over a fifth of its students from outside Connecticut, and those students are quite likely to be full pay.
Capital Community College in Hartford charges residents less than $4,500 in tuition and fees, and has agreements to help students transfer to CCSU. Suppose CCSU’s tuition and fees were at the midpoint between the community college and CCSU’s current charges—this would lower them to $7,750—would the lower charges make it easier for more students to graduate on time? At the very worst it would allow Connecticut residents who are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant and the state’s need-based Willis Grant to attend CCSU free of tuition and fees and possibly costs for books or gas.
How well does CCSU do at accommodating residents and commuters?
With approximately 9,600 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate students, CCSU is the second-largest public university in Connecticut after the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) main campus less than an hour northeast in Storrs. CCSU is also the largest college in the Hartford metro area, drawing much of its students from there.
CCSU was more of a commuter school until four years ago, when it opened Mid Campus Residence Hall, the largest hall (600 beds) that you will find on a public college campus in Connecticut. This hall is suite style and the suites are nice, essentially everything you can get in an apartment except a full kitchen More than a quarter of the undergraduates live on campus. But it is actually less expensive to share an off-campus house or apartment.
I did not think of CCSU as a “social” school where students hang out on the weekends. The students that I talked to ventured into downtown Hartford or West Hartford for entertainment and shopping. The neighborhood around campus is not the nicest. I would advise prospective students to bring a car, even though a transit pass is available for free rides on buses and trains within the state. It costs nothing to park the car. Parking was secure and fairly easy to find, a huge plus for any college. But cars have their costs, especially insurance.
CCSU is the only public college in Connecticut aside from UConn that competes in NCAA Division I varsity scholarship sports, including football. According to the NCAA, the CCSU football Blue Devils averaged less than 3,300 fans per home game in 2017. That’s about the same attendance that Monmouth University, a private school in New Jersey, draws on a campus that has less than half as many students.
Making matters worse, UConn plays its home games at 40,000 seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford, only 20 minutes from CCSU’s campus. I’d have to believe that more Hartford area sports fans would be at the UConn game. But on a positive note, last season’s starting quarterback, Jake Dolegala, will be going to camp with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
How is CCSU doing at guiding students to a degree?
Football players no doubt appreciate a scholarship opportunity as do other varsity athletes. But given the attendance at the games, the fiscal stresses on the state, unimpressive freshman retention (78%) and four-year graduation rates (24%), I wondered if the school should drop their sports to non-scholarship status and put the savings into updating academic facilities and support. As I read a few issues of the school newspaper, The Recorder, and talked with students and staff, I had the feeling that academic support and other student services were thinner than anyone, even the people performing the services, would like.
Career services are a strength. CCSU offers students the opportunity to go on co-op for six months, preferably during the junior and/or senior year, working full time or taking only one or two classes. If you pursue a degree in Electronics Technology, Mechanical Engineering, Construction Management or Industrial Technology an internship or co-op is required. The job market within the Hartford area is large enough for students to find a suitable paid position. Hartford is the capital of Connecticut as well as the state’s largest city. Aetna, Cigna, United Technologies, Stanley Black and Decker and Otis Elevator are among the largest employers, along with state government and the health care community. CCSU is also one of the best pipelines to ESPN in nearby Bristol. There are other colleges around, but the job market is less competitive than a college student is likely to find in Boston or New York.
Among the more than 50,000 CCSU alumni registered on LinkedIn.com just over half live and work in and around the Hartford area. More than 10,000 are based in and around New York City. The base gets really thin after that. Only 1,800 alumni are based in and around Boston.
There are three good reasons for Connecticut residents to consider CCSU:
- Academic programs
- Career services
- A lower sticker price versus other public and private options in-state and within New England.
Out-of-state students might also like CCSU if they are interested in an academic program such as Biomolecular Sciences, Electronics Technology, Mechanical Engineering, Construction Management, Nursing, Robotics and Mechanical Engineering Technology or Industrial Technology that might not be available to them at their home state schools. The non-resident tuition and fees are quite competitive.
But I could not help but think that CCSU needed more resources to lower costs for students, improve retention and raise the graduation rates. Otherwise the community colleges are going to get a longer look among the students in the university’s strongest market.
Report Card: Central Connecticut State University
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: F/D
- Freshman Retention: C
- Costs: B/A for non-residents
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A (Connecticut and New York City)/D (elsewhere)
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