UConn enrollment to swell next school year

Freshman enrollment is about to swell at the University of Connecticut. The $1.1 billion budget its governing board is preparing to approve Wednesday relies on a 9 percent increase in freshman enrollment next school year.

The move to enroll about 400 additional students at the state’s flagship university comes as the number of Connecticut high school graduates declines as the state’s population shrinks.

So where are these students going to come from?

College officials have routinely said they do not intend to disproportionately rely on out-of-state students or lower entrance standards to fill the ranks. For the 2012-13 school year, more than 31,000 students applied to enter UConn as freshmen, and 4,415 actually enrolled.

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said this increase is spread “across the board” in various programs and is attributed to more people applying to the university and deciding to enroll when they are accepted.

“Honestly, these are people we did not want to lose,” she said. “When we had the opportunity to bring them in, we went ahead and did that.”

And this growth is not going to end any time soon. State lawmakers and the governor just approved funds to construct new facilities at the Storrs and Stamford campuses to accommodate 6,580 more students -– a 33 percent increase in enrollment over the next decade.

College officials have largely turned to tuition and enrollment increases to compensate for state budget cuts and mandatory increases in costs. In Connecticut, enrollment in higher education programs has increased by nearly 30,000 students over the past 10 years.

The UConn budget –- proposed by President Susan Herbst -– will increase tuition and fee revenue by 6 percent over the current fiscal year. This increase comes from both student enrollment growth and a 5.8 increase in tuition and fees students must pay next year.

To accommodate these new students, the university plans to start next school year with dozens more faculty. For the 2012-13 school year, UConn hired 75 tenure-track employees for a net gain of 47 new faculty members. (The number accounts for employees who retired or left for other jobs.) Next school year, the system plans to start with a net increase of 125 new faculty over the 2011-12 school year, a spokeswoman said.

In outlining the highlights of the budget, officials write “UConn remains a tremendous value in comparison to our competitors — but it is a value only if the quality of education remains high.”

While UConn gears up to expand, the state’s other four state universities are struggling to maintain current enrollment. This past school year, the Connecticut State Universities experienced a 3.1 percent dip in enrollment. That system’s budget, which was approved last week, relies on increasing out-of-state enrollment to maintain enrollment at current levels.

The planned enrollment expansion at UConn was spearheaded by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Asked where that leaves the other college system, the Democratic governor said that’s a decision for that system’s new president, Gregory Gray.

“I think everyone should plan on what they can reasonably predict,” Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol Tuesday. “I think right-sizing our four state universities –- whether that’s up, down, in-between, no change, whatever that is — has got to be one of Dr. Gray’s challenges when he joins us.”

Budget up 6.2 percent

The proposed budget for UConn — scheduled to be voted on Wednesday by the Board of Trustees — increases spending by $65.3 million, a 6.2 percent increase from this fiscal year.

“Though it was a difficult process, this budget maintains a commitment to meeting the needs of UConn students, faculty, staff and the citizens of Connecticut,” the budget highlights reads.

The budget also uses $18.7 million from the system’s reserves to balance the budget. The Storrs’ rainy-day fund currently has $71.8 million, enough to keep the system operating for 27 days.

“It is the first time in recent years the university has done this,” said UConn Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz. “It was either reduce that or cut financial aid and research funding… It’s not an option we like.”

The state did provide funding to partially cover the mandatory pay increases of all unionized staff at UConn, as required by the contract negotiated by the Malloy administration. State funding provided $8 million of the $14 million these increases will cost the system.

“The University relies heavily on its non-state revenue streams for fiscal stability,” the budget says.

With the increased state support for the raises, overall state funding is still down 7.3 percent since the 2010-11 school year, a $24.2 million decrease. Research funding is also budgeted to decrease by $2.5 million, a 7 percent decline over the last four fiscal years.

Several UConn students had been pushing for the system to build a new student recreation center. Funding for a new center is not included in the system’s construction budget, though a spokeswoman for the university said it has not been ruled out yet.

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