Editorial: Closing CT wealth gap starts in the classroom

Yale School of Management graduates pose for a photograph after commencement exercises on Yale University’s Old Campus in New Haven on May 24, 2021.

Yale School of Management graduates pose for a photograph after commencement exercises on Yale University’s Old Campus in New Haven on May 24, 2021.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

You can’t fault Connecticut’s proclivity for boasting about its academic credentials. We are, after all, home to Yale University in New Haven, which is reliably ranked among the nation’s most prestigious colleges

But an alternate study suggests that while Connecticut’s colleges are not failing, a few remedial lessons might be in order.

This ranking doesn’t come from the likes of U.S. News & World Report, which reinforces the reputation of elite institutions, but from the Washington, D.C., think tank Third Way.

When it comes to serving low-income students, Third Way graded Connecticut’s colleges as below average. As any student knows, “below average” is not an aspiration.

For a state often labeled as hosting the widest wealth gap in the nation, this is not a sign of progress.

Essentially, the report weighs results over image. To any graduate, what really matters is how their education translates to a thriving career (and likely the ability to climb out of student debt).

So while it’s great that Yale is second on Forbes’ ranking of American colleges, Third Way put 11 of Connecticut’s 19 institutions in the bottom 40 percent.

In addition to counting the number of low-income students in a college, the study considered factors such as the salaries of graduates and how long it takes students to pay off loans.

The theme of balance in the classroom has been debated for generations, and remains the subtext of showdowns over affordable housing in many of our communities.

The Third Way study is akin to flipping traditional testing models for high school students. Using different metrics, Yale and Wesleyan were penalized because less than 20 percent of their student bodies were raised in low-income families. Third Way rewarded points to schools with more economically diverse student populations.

In the alternate Third Way universe, Connecticut’s standout school was Post University in Waterbury, which serves a population of 70 percent low-income students. Also faring well were Central Connecticut State University in New Britain (38 percent low-income students) and the University of Connecticut in Storrs (27 percent).

Connecticut’s bottom schools as graded by Third Way were Sacred Heart University, the University of New Haven and Mitchell College in New London.

Meanwhile, CT Mirror also reported on the latest cost-cutting measures being taken within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ system. This comes at a time when the system is undergoing a merger of operations within its 12 community colleges.

Cutting programs and staff size is unlikely to turn around declining enrollment numbers, which were impacted as many struggling families couldn’t afford tuition bills during the pandemic.

Without the one-time American Rescue Plan Act funding from the state that covered an $18.4 million pay period, several of the schools would be operating at a deficit.

These issues dovetail into lessons of economics, history, political science, social justice and more for Connecticut educators. For other state leaders, it’s a reminder that that wealth gap will never narrow until it happens in our schools.