Regents approve fee increases, tuition hike likely to follow

The Connecticut Board of Regents of Higher Education Thursday approved higher student fees to help pay for new construction projects, including a new $81.9 million dormitory at Central Connecticut State University.

The new plan is estimated to increase student fees by 3 percent each year for the next 25 years — beginning at about $30 in the first years for in-state full-time students and $75 for out-of-state students. Some aging dormitories will be closed and rennovated, and most dorm spaces available to students will cost $3,935 a semester, or about $1,000 a month, and will increase 3 percent each year for the next 25 years. The dorms now cost students between $2,500 and $3,008 a semester.

“I am not worried about our costs rising. We have the lowest fees in the state of Connecticut,” said Jack Miller, the president of the New Britain-based university. “Don’t get me wrong, college is expensive. It’s still tough. This is a modest change.”

jack miller

Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller

The proposed new 637-bed dorm is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014 and will have a fitness center, computer lab and a laundry room. University officials said they do not expect enrollment to increase with this new dorm, but that it is necessary so that the outdated existing dorms can be renovated. Funding for those rennovations was not approved Thursday.

Miller said that students are not required to live on campus, but somewhere between half and two-thirds of the full-time students do.

The regents approved an overall multi-school construction plan that will cost about $130 million. Besides the CCSU dorm, it includes several other projects like a new parking garage at Western Connecticut State University and a dinning hall at CCSU. During Thursday’s meeting, several board members said they plan to annually look at how this round of construction projects is being financed. For example, if enrollment increases, then the costs could be spread out among more students in the fees they pay. Or if the rainy day reserve fund builds up, they could look at using that money.

Lewis J. Robinson, the chairman of the board, deferred all questions about the cost of college and how it relates to the plan to the regents’ Finance Committee Chairman Gary F. Holloway. Holloway referred all questions to William Bowes, the system’s chief financial officer.

It is unclear if the board will be asked to approve any other major construction projects this year, and further increase student fees. Bowes, the system’s chief financial officer, said the previous board had a $950 million long-term construction plan, and those projects are going to have to be vetted by this fairly new board governing a merged college system. Board members on Thursday decided they needed to have an informational session so they can better understand and forumulate the system’s construction plan.

The fee increases approved Thursday will not affect the fees community college students are required to pay. Tuition rates will not be affected at any of the 17 higher education institutions the board governs with these projects.

However, the board will soon be grappling with tuition decisions. Bowes said to maintain the system’s current operating budget — and provide the raises they are contractually obliged to give employees following a two-year wage freeze — the regents will have to increase tuition by at least 3.1 percent.

“We are going to have to have a tuition increase to cover [the deficit]. There’s no question about it. The question is whether it needs to be above that 3.1 percent,” Bowes said, adding that additional cuts from the state would further exacerbate the college’s budget problems.

State lawmakers last year cut funding to the colleges by 9 percent, or $27.2 million. The regents increased tuition by 3.8 percent at the state colleges and 3.1 percent at community colleges last year. Students who live on campus at Central, Eastern, Southern or Western state universities currently pay $20,125 for housing, tuition and fees.

When asked if the colleges are facing a steeper increase this year, Bowes said, “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”

In a statement released Friday on tuition, Robinson, the chairman of the board, said, “It is entirely too premature to say that there will in fact need to be a tuition increase, and what that increase might be. Furthermore, there certainly won’t be a decision made about whether an increase is appropriate until the information provided from the colleges and universities is analyzed, the Finance Committee reviews the issue, students have an opportunity to weigh in, and the full Board of Regents votes on the matter.”