Higher ed board seeking 10% more from state to hold tuition hike to 2% [Journal Inquirer]

September 10, 2014

By Mike Savino Journal Inquirer

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Board of Regents for Higher Education says it will need nearly 10 percent more in state aid next year to cover current services and keep tuition and fee increases at 2 percent for the Connecticut State University system and the state’s community colleges.

The board approved a motion during a meeting Friday in Hartford to request $625 million from the Office of Policy and Management for its current services budget for the 2016 fiscal year, an increase of $56 million, or 9.9 percent.

The board also requested $681.2 for the 2017 fiscal year as OPM staff begins working on a proposed two-year budget for the next legislative session. The $681.2 million figure is $56.2 million, or 8.9 percent, over board’s 2016 budget request.

Board of Regents spokesman Michael Kozlowski said the increase is needed to help keep tuition and fee increases down in spite of inflation, contractual obligations, and other increases.

“We want to be the state’s higher education system, and in order to do that we have to be affordable,” Kozlowski said.

Information supplied to the Board of Regents projects a 2 percent tuition and fee increase in each of the next two years.

The figures and requests are based on a projected budget of $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2016 and $1.26 billion the following year. The Board of Regents’ budget this year is $1.1 billion.

But Kozlowski said the Board of Regents voted only on its request to OPM and hasn’t yet set a budget for the next two years.

Current services is just one of three portions of the board’s budget, along with capital requests and expansion options.

The board also approved a capital request Friday of roughly $163 million in each of the two years. Kozlowksi said the board would vote on its expansion options budget soon.

State Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said it’s a “major step” for the board to hold tuition to a 2 percent increase.

“We need to make education more affordable,” he said, adding the state has taken a number of steps toward that end, including offering free courses to students.

He said the program allows students to take what would equate to a semester’s worth of classes at no cost over the span of four years.

He added that it’s “critical to keep costs down” at the state’s community colleges. The Board of Regents oversees those colleges, including Manchester Community College and Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield.

State Rep. Timothy J. Ackert, R-Coventry a member of the education committee, said he wanted to review the board’s budget but agreed on the need to keep tuition down at community colleges.

“I think the key is, the focus is to keep the tuition down,” he said.

Other Republicans on the legislative committee, though, called the request “insulated from reality” and “unjustifiable.”

“We are asking the Regents to be realistic about finances,” committee members Rep. Timothy B. LeGeyt, R-Canton, and Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, and Assistant House Minority Leader Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, said in a joint statement.

“This year alone BOR staff have been awarded huge bonuses and administrators continue to receive unreasonably high salaries and perks. It is not OK to keep putting the burden of questionable financial decisions on the taxpayers,” the statement says.