The job of University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas, who was appointed to his position in February and took over in August, could not be more important. In leading the state’s flagship university, he has a vital role in developing the next generation of the state’s workforce and convincing our most talented young people to make Connecticut their long-term home.
Early reports on his tenure are positive. But nothing will be easy as budgetary challenges grow and Connecticut deals with an ongoing economic identity crisis.
Katsouleas was at UConn’s Stamford branch this week to tout a new partnership with locally based Synchrony, which included the opening of the Synchrony Digital Technology Center along with an announcement by the company of a $1 million donation to the “Connecticut Commitment,” an initiative that allows lower-income state residents to attend the university tuition-free.
Working with the business community will be vital to UConn’s future, but it’s the growth of Stamford’s university presence that’s most noteworthy. The addition of residence halls at the branch campus has added a new, urban dynamic to the school’s offerings, and students are showing their appreciation. While branch attendees have the option of shifting to the main campus after two years, a growing number are choosing to remain in Stamford for the duration of their undergraduate experience.
It’s a lesson the school could use at its other branches in Waterbury, Hartford and Avery Point. UConn has something to offer a wide range of prospective students.
But Storrs remains the focus, and Katsouleas indicated this week that a nearly quarter-century construction project that has remade the physical plant will soon be wrapping up. For anyone who hasn’t seen the main campus since the 1990s, the site would now be nearly unrecognizable, with the changes nearly all for the better. But it hasn’t been without challenges, and the wrapping up of near-constant construction will be welcome.
As to the quality of education on offer, UConn’s reputation continues to grow. It’s no longer a safety school, and many accomplished in-state high school students consider it a reach to get in. That creates a balancing act — it’s to the state’s benefit to have a flagship university with a glowing reputation, but it has an obligation to provide an education to Connecticut students. Katsouleas and his colleagues can’t lose sight of that, and early indications are that they won’t.
It’s no secret the state economy is in flux. Large-scale manufacturing has long since abandoned its onetime home in the cities, and finance, which had buoyed the state through some difficult years, has had its own challenges. The rise of advanced manufacturing is promising, but it can’t offer the same quantity of jobs, leaving the service sector to fill in. The challenge there is that too many state residents can’t make ends meet on a service-sector salary.
What hasn’t changed is Connecticut’s highly skilled workforce, which UConn plays an outsized role in maintaining. As the state economy continues to evolve, it will be up to Katsouleas and his leadership team to ensure UConn can meet its changing needs.