To stay competitive, UConn will raise tuition over next four years

Adam Scianna said that as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut nine years ago, it was common to see multiple sections for one class, often with 20 to 30 students per section. Now, he works as a teaching assistant for one of the same classes he took as an undergrad — but he teaches one section with almost 200 students.

“This discussion should not be about the sticker price of a UConn education,” UConn President Susan Herbst said Monday. “We need more faculty to educate our students better, give them what they need, bring down class size, and bring up faculty-student ratio, but faculty are also the research brain power of this university.

“When you do not have strong faculty numbers, you invent less and you create less,” she said.

Scianna represents the Graduate Student Senate for UConn’s Board of Trustees. He endorsed a four-year tuition increase the board approved Monday. The four-year plan to raise tuition will target one of the university’s biggest problems: a lack of adequate staffing and the inability of many students to enroll in the classes they need.

Herbst, the school’s new chief, said she has her eye firmly on the university’s reputation and ranking. U.S. News and World Report ranked UConn No. 19 this year among the top 20 public universities in the country. Herbst said she intends to improve upon that ranking.

“We’re in the top 20, finally,” she said. “Let’s keep this up. I was not hired to be smug at 19.”

The plan, without an increase in state appropriations over the next four years, will increase tuition and fees through 2013-2016 each year, by 6 percent, 6.3 percent, 6.5 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. The increases will nearly double the cost of attending UConn in less than 12 years. The upside — almost 290 new faculty members.

Tuition and fees for an in-state student is currently $10,670. Under this plan, it could grow to $13,130 by 2016.

With an increase in state aid over the next four years, the tuition hikes will drop about half a percentage point for each year. But with major cuts to the state budget and to UConn’s funding this year, Herbst said the university has no choice but to raise tuition to stay competitive.

Herbst said she expects many of the new faculty to go to science, technology, engineering and math-related areas. Their research helps bring in the major grant money, she said. But she also acknowledged the liberal arts — for example, the need for more English teachers.

“The university that will cure cancer will be one where there are cancer researchers hired,” Herbst said. “The university that will invent the cleanest forms of energy will be the one where engineers are hired.”

UConn officials first mentioned the possibility of a tuition increase in mid-December. Herbst said she often had students in her office crying because they couldn’t get into the classes they needed.

The board Monday approved the four-year plan with no protesting students present, or really any students present, for that matter — finals ended Friday and the Board of Trustees meeting coincided with the last day of operational dorms. The majority of students went home for the holidays over the weekend.

A few speakers voiced disapproval with the timing of the meeting, but they still supported the tuition hikes.

“I would like to address my disappointment at the timing of this entire process,” said junior Sam Tracy, president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG).

“While I acknowledge that the board is seeking to have tuition decided as early as possible in order to allow more families time to plan their financials, the timing of this discussion has prevented many students from learning about and voicing their opinions on the proposed increases.”

The town hall meetings to help students understand the plan took place during finals week, Tracy said, preventing many students from attending.

“Student involvement in the decision-making process should be a priority for the Board of Trustees,” he said.

But Herbst and board members urged the importance of passing the plan quickly to allow financial planning and a sense of predictability as high school students across the country receive their acceptance letters.

“To have predictability for four years is very unusual,” Herbst said. “Yeah, it may feel rushed, but we feel like it’s our responsibility to give people who are hearing about college acceptance right now, to give them time to plan.

“We worked with students as much as we could,” she said. “We stayed at the town hall meetings until they were out of questions. This is never easy, and there is no easy time for it.”

UConn spokesman Michael Kirk pointed out that UConn’s tuition increases follow tuition hikes at top public universities across the country. The percentage increases at UConn, however, are not the highest in the country, he said.

“It’s safe to assume that tuition at other schools will continue to rise as well, meaning UConn will undoubtedly remain about in the middle when it comes to cost among the top public universities,” Kirk said.