Full impact of higher education budget cuts remains uncertain

The governing boards of Connecticut’s higher education institutions–one of which doesn’t even exist yet–will face difficult choices and some severe limitations in trying to cope with nearly $59 million in cuts this year under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new budget-balancing plan.

The administration recommended 779 layoffs to offset that loss–as well as $61.8 million cut in 2012-13–but the final decision on how to adjust operations rests with the Board of Trustees of the University of Connecticut and the yet-to-be-appointed Board of Regents for Higher Education that will oversee the recently-merged Connecticut State University and community-technical college systems and Charter Oak State College.

The single-largest cut to higher ed proposed by Malloy to help balance the state budget in light of a failed union concession deal involves reducing UConn’s $225.3 appropriation for operating and other costs this fiscal year by $20.7 million–a 9 percent reduction. The block grant for 2012-13 would be cut $23.4 million.

The administration also cut another $11.7 million this year from the UConn Health Center, which contains the university’s medical and dental schools as well as the John Dempsey Hospital, and $26.5 million from the Board of Regents’ budget.

The cuts reflect proposed job cuts of 345 positions at UConn’s main campus in Storrs and its regional campuses; 165 at the Farmington-based health center; and 270 at the institutions under the Board of Regents.

A UConn spokesman declined to comment at this time.

But many higher education positions are off-limits, at least in the short term: Faculty and certain other unionized college and university jobs have layoff notice requirements of as long as one year. That could force the governing boards to look for alternative cuts in other segments of the budget, raising tuition and fees as early as this spring, raiding budget reserves — or some combination of all three.

The problem is particularly acute when it comes to the recently merger of the four Connecticut State University campuses, the 12 community colleges and the on-line Charter Oak State College. Malloy cut the block grants for all three components by 8 percent this year and 12 percent in 2012-13, for a total of $26.3 million in the first year and just under $40 million in the second.

Mary Anne Cox handles communications for the Office of Assistant Chancellor for the Connecticut Community Colleges. She said the cuts, in addition to limits on raising tuition, will result in the community colleges’ inability to accommodate growth.

“This is a terrible process,” she said. “Terrible for the people who are laid off, terrible for the students who won’t be able to find room in our classrooms and terrible for everyone involved.”

Without the ability to accommodate growth, Cox said Connecticut will struggle to revive from the economic downturn.

“It’s going to be devasting to the state of Connecticut, which relies on a skilled workforce to recover from this economic downturn,” she said. “Without students receiving support from the community colleges, we’re going to lose that skilled workforce.”

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury and co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, agreed that community colleges will see the worst of the cuts.


“This is going to mean a cut in a lot of courses, for the community colleges in particular,” she said. “They don’t have the same reserve funds as UConn and the state university system. Of all the players, I think community colleges are going to be hit the hardest.”


While the governor has appointed Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti as acting president of the Board of Regents, the full panel still hasn’t been named yet, leaving it unclear how the operating block grant cuts will be resolved.