Plan Would Hike Tuition Again At Connecticut State Universities, Community Colleges

March 24, 2016

Courant

HARTFORD — Students at the state universities would pay $480 more next year in tuition, while those at the community colleges would pay $141 more under an proposal released Wednesday.

The increases amount to a 5 percent tuition hike for students at Central, Eastern, Western and Southern Connecticut state universities, with tuition going up to $10,089. For students at the state’s 12 community colleges, the increase would be 3.5 percent, bringing tuition to $4,173.

Since 2008, the cost of tuition and fees at the state universities and community colleges has climbed steadily, increasing by close to 50 percent, with year-to-year jumps as high as 10.3 percent and as low as 1.6 percent.

“I said I didn’t want to balance the state’s financial crisis on the backs of the students. I think that this does not do that,” Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system, told reporters at a news conference at his Woodland Street office.

The CSCU system also includes Charter Oak State College, the state’s online college, where tuition would go up 4 percent, or $347, to $9,013.
Ojakian said the increases will close a little more than half the system’s projected $37.3 million deficit, leaving a budget gap of about $18 million.

“This is not something that I take lightly. Any time you increase somebody’s tuition, it becomes a challenge to them to continue their education,” Ojakian continued. “That being said, doing nothing would be irresponsible.”

If nothing is done, Ojakian said, the system would have to make changes that would threaten the quality of the institutions — like canceling classes, shutting down libraries for four or five days a week or eliminating student advisers.

If the CSCU system had attempted to rely entirely on tuition to close its budget gap for next year, it would have had to increase tuition by more than 7 percent at the state universities and by almost 11 percent at the community colleges, Ojakian said.

The Board of Regents for Higher Education, which oversees the CSCU system, is expected to vote on the proposal at its Tuesday meeting. Normally, the regents approve the CSCU president’s proposal.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, criticized Ojakian, saying he is asking for a “painful 5 percent increase in tuition costs.”

“Taken alone a 5 percent increase in tuition would not be so obscene,” Boucher said in a statement, but she noted, the cost of attending the state universities has gone up by about half in the past decade.

“It is not only the students that are negatively affected by this increase, but also the students’ parents; many of whom struggle to help their children pay for college,” Boucher said.

Gordon Plouffe, a student at Manchester Community College who also serves as a student representative on the Board of Regents, said students are “balking at any type of tuition increase and they are always balking at a whole lot of cuts to services. We need things like a library. We need things like tutors.”

Plouffe, who met with Ojakian on Wednesday along with a student advisory group, said he wants to see changes in the way higher education is funded. “I believe that we are just doing things the same way and waiting for things to get better, but they are not getting better,” Plouffe said. “We need to come up with a long-term solution … Is there a toll we could lock-box and use to fund higher education?”

In a letter to students, Ojakian said, “I am fully aware that this is not the news you wanted to receive. Nor is it the news I wanted to be delivering. We spent a lot of time reviewing our budget options for next year. I believe this is fair given our current environment, and keeps our schools affordable …”

Ojakian explained in the letter that the state of Connecticut, one of the major funding sources for the system, is facing an enormous budget deficit of almost $1 billion.

Ojakian told reporters Tuesday that he was going to have conversations with college administrators, faculty, students, legislators and others about “how we do business differently. We’re in a new economic climate in the state of Connecticut … We can’t do business as usual.”

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said she understood “the necessity of this increase given the state’s fiscal problems.

Even with this increase, Connecticut community colleges are below the average New England cost by about $700 per year and Connecticut four-year institutions are about $200 per year below the New England average,” said Bartolomeo, who is co-chairwoman of the education committee.

In an analysis, CSCU staff wrote that the proposed increase is based on the governor’s proposed budget, which includes a $26 million cut for the CSCU system. “If the final budget deteriorates further from the Governor’s proposal we will need to make further reductions,” the analysis continued.

The tuition proposal is also based on projections that enrollment will remain flat for next year, the analysis said. If enrollment declines in the fall, the budget gap will get worse. Another unknown, at this point, is the cost of employee contracts now in the midst of bargaining.

In December, UConn approved a plan for increases that will raise tuition by 31 percent over four years, starting with a 6.7 percent jump in the fall.