Hartford's higher education leaders want to make the city a college town, and hope this will drive cultural and economic growth in the state’s capitol.
Martin Estey says more needs to be done to get students to live in and explore Hartford.
“You can’t just put a campus here and expect the students to start leaving their class and start walking around town," said Estey, executive director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. "You have to build programming that actually, intentionally, gets them out to look around Hartford.”
One of the programs is something called cross registration, which works like this:
Say you’re a student at the University of St. Joseph and you want to take a class at the University of Hartford that St. Joe’s doesn’t offer. No problem. Each of the consortium's 11 colleges and universities has agreed to let students from one college take classes at another, at no extra cost.
But there some challenges to getting students to stay in Hartford. Part of the problem is the perception that the city is unsafe, said Rhona Free, St. Joseph's president.
“There has to be understanding that it’s a very safe area, that it’s a very walkable area, very livable, in the sense that there are the amenities, and basics, that college students need: grocery stores, book stores, bike shops,” Free said.
The consortium is speaking out as downtown has seen a boom in additional college campuses. Trinity College, the University of Connecticut, and St. Joseph's have all made plans to add class space in Hartford.
Estey says the city itself can be used as a learning tool.
"You want to learn about politics and economics, and you want to study why a neighborhood is suffering from blight, you don't do that in a book," he said. "You go out and look at the neighborhood and find out what were the forces that created this situation."
Hartford Public Schools also works with consortium members, and offers many students access to college-level courses.