Despite Student Pleas, Regents Vote Tuition Increase Of About 5 Percent
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
March 21, 2013
As expected, the Board of Regents for Higher Education approved a proposed increase tuition and fees of about 5 percent for the nearly 100,000 students in the state universities and community college students.
What was less expected was the vigorous protest by about 200 students who chanted slogans outside the meeting such as "Across the state, across the nation, stop the war on education," and then came in to the meeting to testify during an open forum after the meeting.
"I think it's very scary that this happened," Elise Davis, a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University told the board after the vote. "I think it's just going to make things a lot harder. There's going to be a lot more debt. We're already drowning in debt."
Under the approved hikes, commuter students at the state's four regional universities will pay 5.1 percent or $434 more next year, bringing tuition and fees to $8,990. A residential student would pay 4.1 percent more or $778 more next year for a total of $19,897.
Students at Connecticut's community colleges would pay 5.25 percent more. For a full time student, that's an increase of $188 more, for a total of $3,786.
The only dissenting votes on the board came from the two student trustees, Michael Fraser and Eugene Bell.
"I hope that students, their parents and the public understand that this is a difficult decision, and we don't make it lightly," said Lewis J. Robinson, chairman of the regents board in a statement. "My colleagues on the board and I certainly understand why students don't want to pay higher tuition and fees, but we are entrusted with an important fiduciary duty to assure the stability of our system, as well as to support student success."
After the meeting, Robinson said that "in the end we are dealing with a delicate balance between providing the best quality education we can … against the cost, expenses and the fact that some of our revenue streams are diminishing as opposed to growing or even keeping up with current changes."
Robinson was referring to cutbacks in state appropriations for the schools, as well as declines in the numbers of students enrolling.
But students said they want to see the regents fight harder for more money from the state. Before the vote was taken, Fraser read a letter from the board's student advisory committee that said, "when the state presents a budget that represents a 5 percent decrease in funding to our institutions – we beseech you to say no. We request that you ask for more…'
Since 2000, tuition and fees at the state universities and for the community colleges have more than doubled.
Matt Fleury, a board member, said the regents leaders have "advocated very hard" for the 17-school system. It's "entirely likely that without those that advocated, we would have looked at a smaller [state] appropriation," Fleury said.
Fleury said the tuition hike is "tuned to the need to have the most modest possible increases in tuition and at the same time attempt to be mindful" of the possibility that the economic outlook for the school could become even more challenging in months to come.
The protesting students came from across the state, bringing with them bullhorns and signs that said "Education not incarceration" and "your salaries pay my debt."
Luis Diaz, a sophomore from Southern Connecticut State University, said he is 30 years old and the father of two daughters. He said he's been paying taxes for 14 years and is paying $12,000 to go to school. "If I'm investing in my education and invested in my state, why can't the state invest in me?" he asked.
After 20 minutes of testimony, Robinson said the window for students to speak had closed and the board would move on to hear professors for 20 minutes. But to a rousing cheer, Vijay Nair, president of the Connecticut State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said he and the other professors would cede their time to the students.
Later, Nair submitted a statement to the board that said "When everybody is going around saying no new taxes, no new taxes, increasing tuition and fees on our students is nothing more or less than imposing a new tax on a population that can least afford it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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