Roberta Willis Honored with 2023 Excellence Award

Former CT Representative and Higher Education Advocate Led Higher Education Committee and Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee

Hartford, CT – The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) honored Roberta Willis, a former member of the House of Representatives and leading voice for higher education in the state, with an Excellence Award on May 17 at the Connecticut State Capitol.

Roberta Willis retired in 2017 from the Connecticut General Assembly, after having served for 16 years as State Representative representing the nine towns in northwestern Connecticut: Salisbury, Sharon, Goshen, Cornwall, Canaan, North Canaan, Kent, Norfolk, and Torrington.

During her tenure, she was the House Chairman of Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee and was co-chair of the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee from 2002 to 2016. During that time, Willis also served on the New England Board of Higher Education. The Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education praised her as a “tireless advocate” for students, who fought to protect and expand state scholarship funds, and for capital investments to improve college campuses.

Colleagues in the Legislature

Colleagues from the Connecticut legislature gathered to honor Willis including Representative Gregg Haddad, Chair of the Higher Education & Employment Advancement Committee, and current chair of NEBHE, Speaker of the House Representative Matt Ritter, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney.

Representative Haddad described Willis: “She always put students first. Institutions are worthy of our support, but students were always at the center for Roberta.”

Michael Thomas, President and CEO, New England Board of Higher Education called Willis “steadfast and immovable in her support of students.” “While she was leading higher education legislative efforts in Connecticut, Representative Willis was also served on the New England Board of Higher Education, strengthening access to higher education and creating new opportunities for students across the region,” he continued.

Legislative Accomplishments

Willis’ legislative and leadership work include passing a “Dreamers” bill for in-state tuition, permitting students without immigration documentation to attend state colleges at in-state tuition prices, supporting the early development of high tech-advanced manufacturing at Connecticut community colleges, and supporting the expansion of the UCONN Health Center and their medical school.

In 2014, Willis received the Visionary Voice Award from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for legislation to address sexual assault on college campuses, to address prevention and campus culture, and ensure a supportive and compassionate response was available to victims across at all Connecticut colleges. And, in 2015 Willis spearheaded legislation to create a Planning Commission to develop a Strategic Plan for Higher Education in Connecticut with the technical assistance from New England Board of Higher Education and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Before her retirement, the Connecticut legislature voted to rename the Governor’s Scholarship Program, the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Program, in her honor. The program provides financial aid to tens of thousands of Connecticut students attending public and private colleges.

About the New England Higher Education Excellence Awards

Since 2003, NEBHE has formally recognized people and groups with New England Higher Education Excellence Awards for their exceptional leadership on behalf of higher education and advancement of educational opportunity.

Past Excellence Awardees have included Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa M. Núñez, the Connecticut Higher Education President’s Council, David Levinson, President, Norwalk Community College and Vice President, Connecticut Community Colleges, Walter Harrison, President of the University of Hartford and the Honorable Denise Merrill, Connecticut Secretary of State and former member, Connecticut House of Representatives.