East Hartford — Faced with continuing dips in Connecticut’s college-age population and declines in state funding for higher education, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to infuse $1.8 billion into the University of Connecticut to build the space for dramatic enrollment increases.
He also wants the state to spend $286 million over 10 years to pay for the new faculty to accommodate 6,580 new students in science fields — a 30 percent enrollment increase over the next 10 years. The construction costs will largely be paid for by the state, and operating costs nearly split.
“Make no mistake about it, we are making Connecticut competitive again,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference at Pratt & Whitney when releasing the plan.
Student fees, which typically pay for student housing, will not be increased to pay for the new dorms planned for the Storrs and Stamford campuses, Malloy and UConn President Susan Herbst said.
“There’s pressure on tuition for other reasons,” Malloy said. “This will not impact that.”
But where’s the money going to come from in a state facing a $1.2 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1?
Malloy said the $2.1 billion plan will not be a huge immediate cost to the state.
“It’s not happening overnight,” he said, making no promises to shield the state’s flagship university from further cuts. Over the past two years, the state has reduced funding to UConn by 13.6 percent while tuition and fees have increased by 9.1 percent.
What the costs will be for the coming fiscal year were not available. Malloy is set to release his proposed budget next week.
But the price of the initiative stunned House Minority Leader Lawrence J. Cafero, R-Norwalk.
“Say it ain’t so, governor. Say it ain’t so,” he told reporters at the state Capitol Thursday. “It’s beyond comprehension… How are we even going to pay for that?”
Herbst said she is hopeful some of the $149 million UConn will be expected to fund itself for non-construction costs will come from research grants. Federal funding for research has been increasingly difficult to come by nationwide and there has not been any sign that a wave of new funding is coming anytime soon. Federal research money for UConn dropped by $18.7 million between fiscal 2011 and 2012, a 9 percent decrease.
Herbst said even if new funding is not available, the strategy for UConn is to “get a bigger piece of the pie.”
Who are these students?
College officials have largely turned to tuition and enrollment increases to compensate for state budget cuts. In Connecticut, enrollment in higher education programs has increased by 29,500 students over the past 10 years.
But this upward trend may be over, says Orlando Rodriguez, a senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, who studies the state’s demographics.
“There are going to be fewer and fewer people in Connecticut available to go into higher education,” he said of the state’s aging population.
In the past 10 years, the state’s public kindergarten through high school population has decreased by 18,000 students, or 3.3 percent. Rodriguez reports that by 2025, enrollment is expected to drop by another 93,000 students. The Connecticut Department of Higher Education has also projected similar declines. Universities in the Northeast are experiencing the largest declines in high school students graduating each year, reports the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and the College Board.
“We have to rethink” enrollment, Rodriguez said. “We need to take our four-year universities and expand to those nontraditional students.”
Those students include older students without degrees or minority students, fewer of whom have traditionally attended college. If these populations are not targeted for UConn’s drastic enrollment plan, he said, then the remaining alternatives will be to steal students who would otherwise attend the other state universities or by increasing out-of-state enrollment.
The declines in enrollment in the state’s other public colleges are contributing to its budget deficits.
Other states are also grappling with this.
“We’ve gotten so used to growth … So when you see a decline in enrollment, red flags and alarms really start to go off,” said Michael Reilly, executive director of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers, which represents the gatekeepers at 1,200 U.S. colleges.
“The financial model of who contributes to the costs has really changed” with state cuts, Reilly said. “You have to look for an increase in students to make up for cuts… Those students bring money that used to be given by the state.”
UConn’s Herbst said there is no intention of deviating from the current makeup of UConn’s undergraduate population, in which eight of every 10 students are from Connecticut. Her plan, she said, is to capture those high-caliber Connecticut high school graduates who head out-of-state to universities like California Institute of Technology or Massachusetts Institute of Technology because there is no room at UConn.
“I want as many positions as can reasonably be filled by the best students in the state of Connecticut to go to the University of Connecticut. I also want the best students in the world to come to Connecticut,” Malloy said, adding he thinks many will stick around after they graduate.
The key to this strategy succeeding as an economic driver, Rodriguez said, is to ensure jobs are available for students after they graduate.
When releasing the plan, Malloy — flanked by House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey and Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. — said the enrollment expansions will be in areas that the labor market determines has a void in a trained workforce.
Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe