At $5.65 an hour plus tips, the restaurant job Klajd Kovaci works nights and weekends doesn't do much to ease the pain of the $530 tuition and fee increase the University of Connecticut approved Thursday.
"When I'm looking at paying $5,000 each semester . . . and hearing that it's only going to go up higher, it hurts even more," the junior from Rocky Hill told the Board of Trustees.
His parents are still paying their home mortgage and helping pay college costs for his brother, also at UConn, he said.
"What are we to do?" he said.
That is a question that perplexes students, faculty and trustees alike as the University tries to cope with the state's worsening financial crisis. Trustees voted to increase tuition and fees by 5.4 percent next fall after hearing a parade of students and faculty call on UConn to find a way to hold down costs without sacrificing quality.
Wednesday's vote will bring total undergraduate tuition and fees to $10,416 for state residents, $48 less than the 5.8 percent hike UConn officials had proposed a week ago. The total cost for undergraduates next fall, including room and board, will reach $20,968, a 6 percent increase. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $37,432 for tuition, room and board, a 5.8 percent hike.
The board also said it is seeking a consultant to conduct a financial review in an effort to hold down costs. State support for Connecticut's flagship university has remained flat, putting pressure on the university to raise tuition sharply. Officials have warned that even with a similar tuition increase next year, UConn could face a $20 million to $40 million deficit.
"We must find structural changes not only to reduce the growth of costs . . . but we must reduce costs in absolute terms as well," said Peter S. Drotch, chairman of the trustees' Financial Affairs Committee.
Some students asked the board to hold tuition increases to a minimum while others called for larger increases in order to preserve programs and avoid cuts in academic and other programs.
"The stories are very compelling," Drotch said. "The range of views of students is no different than the range of views of trustees."
The strains at UConn are similar to problems at public universities across the nation as the share of state support for higher education continues to decline in comparison to tuition revenue. The upward pressure on tuition increases during a recession.
Nowhere is the problem more serious than at the University of California, where tuition is rising by 32 percent next year.
"We saw what happened in California," said UConn junior Jason Ortiz of Norwich, who called for a campus-wide discussion to look for solutions. "We have to figure out a new way to solve this problem rather than continuously raising tuition."
Connecticut's other public university system, Connecticut State University, will raise tuition and fees by 6.3 percent next year, a $477 increase for commuter students. Students living on campus will pay $950 more, a 5.6 percent increase.
At UConn, some students said the university must preserve its programs, even if it means raising tuition substantially. "If the state continues to flat fund our budget . . . then what other option do we have but to raise tuition?" said Tom Haggerty, a junior from Stratford and president of Undergraduate Student Government.
Richard Colon Jr., a graduate student and a member of the Board of Trustees, urged the board to raise tuition by 7.5 percent, but his motion was defeated. "If we don't raise tuition enough we're going to take a step backwards," he told the board. He said students already are feeling the pinch, sometimes unable to enroll in the courses they need.
"I had to turn away over 100 students this year because my class was completely full," said Colon, a graduate teaching assistant in anthropology.
"We don't come here because this is the cheapest place," he said. "We come here because the degree is valuable. . . . I do not want my degree to be worth less."
Ed Marth, executive director of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors, also warned that the university could see an erosion of quality if it fails to seek adequate tuition support during the fiscal crisis.
"Years of progress can be undone in a single budget cycle," he said. "This is not good for attracting or keeping the kind of faculty we want to be known for and what the students believe they are getting . . . at a high quality university."
Unless the university raises tuition enough to meet the budget crisis, he said, "It's going to wind up giving students less than they bargained for - larger classes, classes that can't be staffed, fewer faculty, unfinished labs."
One professor compared the problem to global climate change. "Adverse consequences do not occur overnight," said John Clausen, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. "They are gradual like a melting glacier, and we do not want to reach the tipping point from which we cannot recover."