Cuts, Tuition Increases Among Concerns As Higher Ed Agencies Head To The Capitol [Courant]

February 24, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Reeling from the swipes Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget would have on education, officials from the state’s higher ed agencies are scheduled to appear before the legislature’s appropriations committee Tuesday to make budget presentations.

University of Connecticut officials have said Malloy’s plan for fiscal year 2016 would leave them $40 million short of what they need to operate in the budget year that starts July 1. Similarly, the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system would be $38 million short of its target.

Higher education administrators will argue that such reductions would require significant cuts and could lead to greater increases in tuition than planned.

“While we don’t yet know its full impact, this level of spending reduction will almost certainly require a significant increase in student tuition and changes to how [Connecticut State Colleges & Universities] conducts its operations,” Gregory Gray, president of the CSCU system, said last week.

Gray emphasized that he would try to keep the cuts “as far away from the students and the instructional process as possible.” But he added: “There’s a line there. We are getting very close to that line where we simply cannot operate in the way that we need to operate.”

A statement last week from UConn President Susan Herbst said that “managing a reduction of that size will necessitate deep and significant cuts throughout the university.”

Of the cuts to the CSCU system and UConn, Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chairwoman of the higher education committee, said: “We anticipated that higher education was going to be cut, so in that sense, it was no revelation.”

However, Willis said the shortfalls are “real money. … Forty million is not exactly a small bite of the apple.”

“I think it reopens the issue of tuition,” she said. The Board of Regents for Higher Education, which oversees the four regional state universities and 12 community colleges in the CSCU system, has aimed to keep any tuition increases at or below about 2 percent.

According to its four-year schedule of tuition increases, UConn is expected to increase tuition by about 6.75 percent next fall.

Willis did praise Malloy’s plan to allow students to refinance loans through Connecticut’s Higher Education Student Loan Authority.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, a ranking member of the higher education committee, said he worries that the budget shortfall will “really put us behind the 8 ball” on the CSCU’s improvement program known as Transform CSCU 2020.

Gray said he didn’t think the cutbacks would have a major effect on the plan, which has drawn extensive criticism from faculty, because he said it’s a 20-year plan and expensive projects can be deferred for a few years while progress is made on other aspects.