Malloy Presents Details of $2 Billion Plan For UConn [Hartford Courant]

February 4, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

By KATHLEEN MEGAN, [email protected]
The Hartford Courant
9:48 p.m. EST, January 31, 2013


A proposal to invest heavily in science, technology, engineering and math programs at the University of Connecticut over the next 10 years looked more ambitious Thursday, topping $2 billion.

Aimed at creating a skilled workforce that would in turn boost the state’s economy, the proposal also envisions that UConn instructors would attract millions in research grant money to the state.

“[We would be] targeting state resources to our flagship university in the areas we know are poised for growth: bioscience, digital media and engineering,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at a press conference at jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney Thursday. “We will make sure that our young people have the skills they need to fill the jobs that we are so aggressively pursuing here in the state of Connecticut.”

“My first reaction is: Say it ain’t so, governor. Say it ain’t so,” said House Republican leader Larry Cafero, a UConn alumnus. He cited the state’s looming budget deficit, which could be more than $2 billion in the next two years. “This is what is shocking to me.

“We’ve got other problems, too. … We have roads, we have bridges. We have to deal with the Sandy Hook issue,” Cafero said. He anticipates that the state will need money for increased mental health care and better school security.

When the proposal was floated Wednesday, it was $1.5 billion. But Malloy presented more details Thursday at a press conference that included UConn President Susan Herbst. The project, called Next Generation Connecticut, includes $1.677 billion in state money, along with a $384 million contribution from UConn — some of which will come from the already-approved UConn 2000/21st Century program.

The proposal – which will go to the legislature and the State Bond Commission – encompasses the Storrs, Greater Hartford and Stamford campuses and includes hiring faculty, improving facilities, expanding overall enrollment by a third, and boosting the number of engineering graduates by 70 percent.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, a North Haven Republican, said: “I think the concept is good, but we have to look at the money. … I understand we have to enhance these programs, but that’s just a lot of money when businesses are struggling.”

“Everything has to be examined before we go further on this,” Fasano said.

Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Republican member on the legislature’s higher education committee, said Malloy’s proposal includes “good projects and certainly the kind of initiative to move the university even further ahead,” but she questioned “the financial viability of doing this now … I am strongly torn on this issue.”

Malloy emphasized that the investment was needed to improve the state’s economy, which some see as stagnating. He predicted that over the next decade the project would attract $270 million in research grants and $527 million in business activity, as well as supporting more than 4,000 permanent jobs.

“Quite frankly this investment should have been made 10 years ago,” Malloy said. “If it were made 20 years ago, our economy would be stronger today.”

The annual operating expenses for the project would be funded by a contribution of $137 million from the state and $149 million from UConn. It covers the hiring of 259 faculty members; 1,400 scholarships for top students; 50 doctoral fellowships; and 2,000 grants for students and faculty to launch projects.

Asked how the university would attract more students at a time when the pool of college-age students is shrinking, Herbst cited the scholarships and commitment to hiring more staff as a way to attract more of Connecticut’s top students — students who might have gone to MIT or CalTech — as well as getting out-of-state students.

Herbst said the Next Generation Connecticut plan began much the way the multimillion dollar Bioscience Connecticut project began: with a modest proposal by UConn officials to upgrade science facilities and equipment.

She said Malloy told her to “come back to me when you have a fleshed out plan that helps me fix this economy permanently.” And she did.

The plan includes:

•$450 million to build new facilities for science technology and engineering programs at UConn, and $770 million in infrastructure improvement, including new teaching and research labs.

•Undergraduate enrollment at UConn — now at about 17,000 — would be expected to grow by 6,580 with about half that number studying in technology.

•Expansion at the Stamford campus of the digital design program into an entire school of fine arts and digital design and media and degrees in financial management, international business and risk management.

Construction and renovations for the plan would be funded by a $1.5 billion state bond and $235 million from UConn 2000/21st Century UConn — a $2.3 billion initiative that began in 1995.