CSU Chancellor Proposes Waiving Cap On College Tuition Increases
By KATE FARRISH | The Hartford Courant
December 18, 2008
Anticipating a deep cut in state funding, the chancellor of the Connecticut State University system floated a proposal Wednesday to waive a state-mandated cap on tuition increases.
David G. Carter suggested at a meeting of the Board of Governors for Higher Education that the panel should consider waiving its 15 percent ceiling on increases next year if state budget cuts of 10 percent or more are imposed.
CSU — which consists of Central, Western, Southern and Eastern Connecticut State Universities — would have to raise tuition 34.5 percent next year to make up for such a cut, Carter said. Though officials would not pass such a large increase, he acknowledged, they might have to consider raising tuition by more than 15 percent.
The average annual cost at the four CSU campuses is $16,158 this year, including room and board.
Peter Nichols, the University of Connecticut's provost, also presented figures to the board showing that in-state students in Pennsylvania and Vermont are paying $13,706 and $12,844, respectively, this year in tuition and mandatory fees, not including room and board, compared with $9,338 at UConn. "We are an excellent value. We're competitively priced, and the demand remains at record levels," Nichols said.
The board of governors has the authority to waive the cap, but after the panel's meeting, Michael P. Meotti, the state commissioner of higher education, said the situation would have to be dire to take that step, and it's too early in the budget process to know how bad state finances will be.
Across the nation, it has been getting increasingly expensive to obtain a college education. A report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education, says college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while the median income of families rose 147 percent.
Though some Connecticut residents might be willing to pay more for in-state colleges, officials worry that much higher tuition costs would unfairly burden lower- and middle-income students, Meotti said. "It's a trade-off of maintaining affordability and access as well as the quality of programs," he said.
Wednesday's meeting gave the leaders of the public colleges a chance to describe what potential budget cuts would mean on their campuses. The session came a day after a national group of higher education leaders, including UConn President Michael Hogan, published an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama, urging him to invest $40 billion to $45 billion in higher education to keep the nation competitive with the rest of the world and eventually boost the economy.
Connecticut's leaders of public higher education presented some bleak options they might consider if a 10 percent cut in state funding were to be imposed next year.
The state is providing about 35 percent of UConn's operating budget of $939 million this year, with tuition contributing 30.5 percent, Nichols said. The remainder is coming from federal grants and other sources. This year, UConn is spending 9.6 percent — or about $90 million — of its budget on financial aid for students.
The state is providing 41 percent of CSU's $595 million budget this year, with tuition and fees accounting for 59 percent. CSU is spending nearly $23 million, or 4 percent, on financial aid.
A 10 percent cut in state funding next year would require one of three options at UConn: a 31.5 percent tuition increase; cutting one-quarter of the faculty; or closing two large schools, such as business and engineering, Nichols said.
"I'm trying to basically shock you," he told the board, adding that those options are not being actively pursued.
Similar options would be considered at CSU, community colleges and at Charter Oak State College, leaders of those institutions said.
Large tuition increases at the community colleges, which cost $2,988 to attend full time this year, would squeeze out middle-class students who don't qualify for federal Pell grants and would likely mean that adult students supporting families would take fewer classes, said Marc S. Herzog, chancellor of the community college system.
"That's a real problem," he said. "That's the workforce that Connecticut needs."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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