State Tuition Increases Possible, Maybe Even Double Digits
Budget Cuts, Declining Enrollment Contribute; Final Decision Not Expected For Months
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
January 09, 2013
State budget cuts and declining or stagnating enrollment in the state university and community colleges could mean a tuition and fee increase that could be as high as 12 percent under one scenario.
Lewis J. Robinson Jr., chairman of the state's Board of Regents for Higher Education, said the recent $14.4 million budget cut and a looming state budget gap of more than $1 billion made discussion of fee increases for the fall semester necessary. "It would only make sense in terms of our fiduciary duty … that we would be thinking about various scenarios," he said.
The assumption is that "with a deficit this large, we may well be asked to give up more money … We know this will have a negative impact on plans and services. We have to figure out how we can minimize any negative impact, including the amount of tuition increase that's necessary," Robinson said.
The fee increase options ranged from a few percentage points to 12.4 percent.
But the discussions at this point are preliminary, spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan Johnson emphasized. "This is a discussion, not a proposal," she said, and it may take a couple of months or more before the regents vote on fees.
William Bowes, chief financial officer for the regents, said the tuition scenarios are a "theoretical projection. In all likelihood, we would not do a large increase. We would look for other ways that we could reduce costs at the same time."
Asked what might be a reasonable increase, Bowes said: "It's really hard to say. We'd probably be looking at at least a 6 percent [increase]."
He noted that the University of Connecticut — which is not overseen by the regents — is planning to increase tuition by about 6 percent next fall as part of a four-year plan for tuition hikes.
"It's a very difficult situation that we are in," Bowes said.
After years of enrollment increases at the state universities and community colleges, he said that the regents are aware that enrollment is leveling off and is even decreasing at Southern Connecticut and Western Connecticut state universities.
"We need to be thinking about the impact of whatever the tuition increase is," he said.
But there is also the quality of education to be considered. Bowes said that because of budget cutbacks, 187 positions at the state universities and community colleges are vacant and won't be filled. He said that includes 133 administrative positions, eight managerial positions and 46 faculty jobs.
"The impact of that is fairly broad," Bowes said, noting that the unfilled jobs range from custodians and student financial aid counselors to tutors, enrollment management staff members and others. In addition, he said plans to hire 47 new faculty members — to be funded by $5.5 million in savings achieved through the consolidation of higher education administration — have stalled.
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the legislature's higher education committee, said the colleges are suffering because of cuts that amount to close to 16 percent in the past two school years.
"When you talk to students, what you hear is they can't get the classes they need to graduate on time," Bye said. "The promise was that they would hire 47 faculty …"
Bye said she will be very concerned if a proposed state budget comes to her committee with additional cuts recommended for state universities and community colleges. "I don't think we can take any more cuts," she said, "and I think the current cuts are coming right out of the pockets of parents."
The problem with raising tuition significantly, she said, "is you can price yourself out of the market."
Michael Fraser, a student at Western Connecticut and a member of the Board of Regents, acknowledged that "the state is looking at a pretty bleak financial future."
"I understand that," he said, "but something's got to give … I don't want it to be on the back of students anymore."
Last year, the board raised tuition and fees for commuter students at the four state universities — Central, Eastern, Southern and Western — an average of 3.8 percent. This meant that last fall, the average commuter student paid $8,556 in tuition and fees — $315 more than the previous year.
The regents considered two scenarios for the state universities this week. In one scenario, tuition and fees for the average commuting student would go up 5.5 percent. In that case, the student would pay $473 more next fall, with a project cost of $9,029.
The second scenario, which included a $7.1 million reduction in the budget for the state universities, called for 12.4 percent increase in tuition and fees. In that situation, the average commuter student would pay $1,060 more in tuition and fees or $9,628.
Last year, the average tuition and fees for the state's 12 community colleges went up 3.1 percent, raising tuition by $108, to $3,598. The regents were provided with scenarios for increases for next year ranging from 3.0 percent to 12 percent.
About two years ago, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked the state universities and community colleges to keep tuition increases at 2.5 percent or less. The schools managed to do this for the school year starting in the fall of 2011.
Asked for a comment on the current tuition discussions, Andrew Doba, spokesman for Malloy, sent an email saying: "These are challenging financial times, so it's not surprising that increases in tuition are being considered by our institutions of higher education. That said, it's premature to start determining the extent of those increases. We look forward to working with the Regents going forward on a plan that manages this issue for the long term."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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