CT Community College Free Tuition Depends On Online Lottery Games

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A plan to help thousands of first-time students – regardless of income – to attend university for free is in the budget bill, but its realization depends on a complex funding system.

The fate of the proposal involves the legalization of online lottery games.

The bill calls on the governor to consult with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation and other state officials on the feasibility of letting the lottery offer its games online or through a mobile app.

The governor will then determine whether the online offering is feasible, the bill says, and whether the income from it is sufficient to cover the cost of a debt-free community college plan.


If the deal goes well, said Representative Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, co-chair of the Higher Education and Employment Committee, it could increase community college enrollment by thousands of full-time students. and help reverse a financially troubling drop in enrollment.

It also points to evidence from free or debt-free community college programs in other states, such as neighboring Rhode Island, that the program can be a substantial income producer for the community college system if it attracts more ‘students eligible for major federal financial aid. .

“I think it will be a very popular program,” Haddad said. “In no state in the country where they have adopted a free community college program have they opted out of these expenses.”

But during a budget press conference, Senate Minority Leader Senator Len Fasano D-Meriden raised questions about the likelihood that the Democratic proposal for a debt-free college will actually materialize.

“The debt-free college is subject to whether the lottery gets the internet and if it’s something we should be doing,” Fasano said. “You know it’s fluff and icing to go out there and say, hey, we did something about college debt-free too. It pacifies their hearts when they really haven’t done anything for a debt-free college. “

Connecticut currently has nearly 48,000 students in its community colleges – 32,414 part-time and 15,498 full-time enrolled. About 60 percent of these full-time students are already actually enrolled for free with their financial aid and other assistance covering all tuition fees and feelings.

The Office of Tax Analysis predicts that free college spending for all full-time first-year students could reach $ 6.1 million in fiscal 2021.

This is where the lottery comes in.

Lottery officials have told lawmakers on several occasions in recent years that they could generate tens of millions of dollars in new revenue by selling tickets to raffle games – like Powerball and Mega Millions – online.

“The Connecticut Lottery Corporation was created to generate revenue for the general state fund,” said Chelsea Turner, vice president of the lottery, on Saturday. “Like any 21st century business, we should be able to modernize and that includes our distribution channels.”

According to the lottery company’s projections, selling all draw games online would bring in an additional $ 5.2 million in the first year and $ 8.1 million in the second. From there, annual revenues would continue to grow steadily, approaching $ 20 million in year 10 of operation.

But these numbers are not set in stone.

One of the games that would be sold online is Keno, and Connecticut has an agreement to share a portion of its Keno proceeds with tribal casinos in Southeast Connecticut.

If the state is unable to provide sufficient funding through iLottery sales, then it will face the shortfall. The bill states that if the governor finds the iLottery to be unworkable, he is required to propose budget adjustments next year, including any source of revenue or spending cuts needed to cover program costs. .

In this case, the onus of deciding how to cover the additional cost could be placed on the Council of Regents of Higher Education, which oversees the community colleges.

Haddad said he is confident iLottery sales will be sufficient and, if not, funds will be found to cover the expenses of the free college program. He also doubts the board of regents will be asked to shoulder the cost of the program, as it aims to help solve the community college’s financial problems.

Haddad said he believed there was “a political momentum behind us that will carry us” through legislative approval and implementation.

“I think it becomes difficult to go back on a promise like this,” he said. “I won’t tell you it’s completely impossible, but reading this text I think it would take some additional legislation to sort of repeal the free college program. I don’t believe that will happen. I think there is a lot of support for this in the legislature. I think the governor himself supports the idea and we’re just working to make sure it’s sustainable because we don’t want to make a promise we can’t keep.

If implemented, the program would be a “last dollar” offer by providing students with all the extra money needed after exhausting government private grant programs.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis predicts the program would bring in between $ 2.1 million and $ 7.7 million in federal and other student financial aid in fiscal year 2021, depending on the number of students. additional enrolled.

The OFA expects the increase in the number of eligible students to range from 10 to 45 percent from the previous year projected after accounting for an annual decline in full-time student enrollments by 3.3 percent. The office said it based the numbers on research showing an increase in enrollments in Rhode Island, Tennessee and Oregon when similar programs were implemented.

The increase in the number of students is expected to range from 637 to 2,310 in fiscal year 2021 and from 1,012 to 3,674 in fiscal year 2022.

The state’s four regional universities are also expected to experience a drop in income – as students choose to start their academic careers in colleges – of less than $ 2.7 million over the course of the year. ‘fiscal year 2021.

Originally, the legislature’s education committee considered a bill that set income limits for those eligible for free college.

But Haddad said after looking at the experience in other states, they decided to open it up to all recent Connecticut high school graduates, regardless of income. When such programs are free for everyone, Haddad said, the message is more likely to be heard by everyone and more students apply.

“If we can assure everyone who goes that you will be able to attend tuition-free, that’s a simple message. It’s easy for people to understand, ”Haddad said. “To achieve this increase in registrations, we really wanted to keep it simple. “


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