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Manchester Legislator Seeks Input On Connecticut Universities' Tuition Increases

By AMANDA FALCONE

March 05, 2010

State Sen. Mary Ann Handley thinks the legislature's higher education committee should be notified about proposed tuition increases at state universities and be able to comment on them before they become final.

So Handley, D-Manchester, and co-chairwoman of the higher education committee, has introduced a bill that would require the University of Connecticut and the state university system to give legislators advance warning of tuition increases.

But the universities say the bill is unnecessary. All lawmakers have to do is ask for the information, university officials said at a hearing Thursday on Handley's bill. Handley, however, says a more formal process is needed.

Handley said university boards of trustees would still be responsible for setting tuition, as required by state law. She said her bill would not let legislators make or change a tuition decision, but would simply ensure the flow of information.

"We need to understand why these decisions are made," Handley said.

University officials said the bill was unnecessary and could have unanticipated consequences.

"Be very careful because you are walking on ground that can become quicksand," said David Carter, chancellor of the state university system.

Carter said he worries that the opinions of boards of trustees and lawmakers could differ and create conflicts that might weaken the power of a board. He also pointed out that tuition is often set when the legislature is not in session.

Peter Nichols, UConn's provost and vice president for academic affairs, agreed with Carter. He said that UConn tries to keep the institution accessible and affordable, even while getting less and less financial support from the state.

Although the state has poured money into UConn building projects, the state's contribution to the school's operating budget has steadily decreased over the past 20 years. Even so, UConn's budget has increased steadily. State funding made up half of the university's $364.5 million budget in 1991, but 33 percent of the estimated $992.3 million budget this year.

All state universities are dealing with reductions and rescissions, university officials said, explaining why the tuition increases are necessary.

Next school year, commuter students enrolled in a state university system school will face a 6.3 percent increase in tuition and fees, and students living on campus will face a 5.6 percent increase in tuition, fees, and room and board. The decision to increase tuition and fees was made in December, and Carter said it was reviewed at many levels, including by students.

In-state students at UConn will face a 5.9 percent tuition increase, and there will be a 5.78 percent increase for out-of-state students. Students and faculty had ample opportunity to weigh in before the decision was made, Nichols said.

Attending the public hearing Thursday were 10 UConn students who went to the Capitol to try to get more money for their school. They listened to the debate on Handley's bill.

Taylor McGloin, a UConn sophomore from Southington, questioned why lawmakers wanted to get involved in setting tuition. They represent constituents and could influence university decisions, he said, adding that UConn tuition should have been raised even more to ensure a quality education.

Handley's bill and the decrease in state funding show why students need to get involved, McGloin said.

"We need to be part of every conversation now," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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