Malloy Seeks To Ease Rising Tuition Rates [Hartford Courant]

September 10, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

“When will they ever go down?” a student asks

By DANIELA ALTIMARI, [email protected]
7:09 PM EDT, September 9, 2014

NEW BRITAIN — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday pitched several proposals to help college students struggling with mounting debt, including a tax break for student loan interest and a plan to allow families to refinance high-interest education loans.

But during a campaign stop at Central Connecticut State University to announce the plan, Malloy was confronted by a student with a more fundamental question.

“Tuition rates are only getting higher,” said Pritesh Kapadia, a 19-year-old commuter student from Middletown who is working part-time at Stop & Shop to pay for his education. “And they only get higher every year. When will they ever go down?”

Malloy said he understands the struggles that Kapadia and other students face. “I’m putting pressure on the regents system to contain their tuition increases so this past year they were 2 percent. You can argue 2 percent is a lot.”

“It is,” Kapadia interjected.

“But if you were making minimum wage at Stop & Shop, this past year you got a 45-cent raise,” Malloy said, referring to a bill increasing Connecticut’s minimum wage to $8.70 an hour.

The stop at Central was one of several college visits that Malloy made Tuesday. The Democrat is locked in a tough re-election battle with Republican Tom Foley; petitioning candidate Joe Visconti is also running.

Malloy outlined several efforts that his administration has already undertaken to make paying for college easier — including depositing $250 into the state’s college savings plan for every baby that is born or adopted in Connecticut after Jan. 1.

Rising Tuition A Concern

But rising tuition continues to be a concern. On Friday, the Board of Regents, the governing body for Connecticut’s college and state university system, voted to ask for a 9.9 percent increase in state funding from its current budget. The board said that its funding request is key to holding fee-and-tuition increases next year to no more than 2 percent, the same rate at which student costs are rising this year.

Several prominent Republican lawmakers expressed concern about the tuition increases. They note that tuition and fees at Connecticut’s state universities has nearly doubled, from $4,531 in 2003 to $8,990 this year.

“The fact that the Board of Regents would even consider asking for a nearly 10 percent increase suggests that they are insulated from the reality our students are facing and it is unjustifiable,” Reps. Jason Perillo of Shelton and Tim LeGeyt of Avon and Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton said in a joint statement Tuesday. “We are asking the regents to be realistic about finances. This year alone [regents] staff have been awarded huge bonuses and administrators continue to receive unreasonably high salaries and perks. It is not okay to keep putting the burden of questionable financial decisions on the taxpayers.

Malloy’s proposals did not address rising tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. But he said he is pressuring the regents to keep tuition increases at bay.

A Long Way To Go

“I want them to keep their costs within the range of inflation, I’ve asked them to do that,” Malloy said. “I’m proud that we’ve now restored all of the cuts that were made in the ’08, ’09, ’10 period of time so we’re back to where we were. I think we’ll have discussions about what we do to drive more students to the institutions as a way of raising some portion of that money. So there’s a long way to go between now and then and we’re not going to see gigantic increases in the cost of these institutions.”

But the governor added, “It’s not just the tuition costs. It’s ‘how is the tuition cost paid for?'”

That is what his higher college affordability plan aims to address. The proposal would give Connecticut residents a state tax break on the interest paid on student loans. Although some of the details have yet to be worked out, it would save the average household about $100 and cost the state about $20 million in lost tax revenue.

Malloy is also proposing increasing the governor’s scholarship program, a needs-based aid program for high-achieving students, by $10 million, and allowing students to refinance education loans at a lower rate by using state-backed taxable bonds.

Malloy noted that student loan debt is now the second-largest form of household debt, after mortgage debt.

“There is a reality that students are graduating with a very high amount of loans, and some of those loans are much higher-priced than when I was going to school, where you could student get a loan for 2 [percent] or 3 percent,” he said.

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