Herron Keyon Gaston

State Senator

Herron Keyon Gaston

Deputy Majority Leader

Empowering Communities, Driving Change

May 25, 2023

Senator Gaston Applauds Passage Of Legislation Doubling Accessibility Of Debt-Free Community College For Students In Connecticut

Today, State Senator Herron Keyon Gaston (D-Bridgeport) voted to pass Senate Bill 8, a flagship priority bill of the Senate Democratic caucus, seeking to make higher education more affordable in Connecticut and ensure graduates of Connecticut colleges and universities remain in the state after completing their studies. Most prominently, the bill would expand the state’s debt-free community college program to include returning students and increase minimum program award amounts; in doing so, the bill will double the students currently eligible for debt-free community college programs from 12,000 to 24,000.

“I am proud to support legislation that will benefit students across Connecticut no matter what their background is,” said Sen. Gaston. “Many students dream of going to college but in some cases that dream may be unattainable because of financial reasons, but with this legislation we are making higher education more affordable awarding everyone an opportunity to continue their education.”

Senate Bill 8, “An Act Concerning Higher Education Affordability and Graduate Retention,” seeks to make the following changes to higher education in Connecticut: it would expand the Pledge to Advance CT, which provides debt-free community college to first-time students in the state, to include returning students as well; thousands of students have been able to access community college without accruing debt since PACT began providing aid in 2020. This would allow students returning to college with previous experience to take advantage of this program as well; students will no longer be required to graduate from a Connecticut high school; the bill also increases minimum awards for students who have all of their costs paid from $250 to $500 per semester for full-time students and from $150 to $250 for part-time students per semester; it requires American Rescue Plan Act funds for the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship program, which provides merit- and need-based financial aid to students attending in-state colleges and universities, to be reallocated from regional community-technical colleges to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities to be expended as grants supporting students. ARPA funds will be used first to make sure these funds are expended before they expire; the bill also prevents the lapsing of Roberta Willis Scholarship funds, allowing for the program to operate without issue in perpetuity.

Colleges and universities will need to notify the Office of Higher Education when new educational programs are started or discontinued at least annually on or before the last day of each semester.
The bill previously passed the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee by a 21-1 tally in March. It now heads to the House for further consideration.