Citing state cuts, UConn to raise tuition 6.5 percent next year

UConn's main campus at Storrs

The CT Mirror

UConn's main campus at Storrs

Facing a $46.2 million deficit for next school year, The University of Connecticut plans to exercise a provision in the four-year tuition plan it adopted in 2011 that allows the school to increase tuition more than 26 percent over the four years if state funding decreases.

Had state funding not been cut over the last four years, UConn students living off campus next year would have been charged $9,768 for tuition – $512 higher than current tuition costs. Instead, students will be charged $602 more to help the public university close its  projected 4 percent deficit next year. This is 6.5 percent higher than this year’s tuition.

UConn could have increased tuition even further — by another $54 — without a new vote from its governing board, but officials opted against going with the highest increase that the board vote in 2011 would have allowed.

“Look back in history,” UConn Provost Mun Choi said during an interview on why UConn officials opted for the $602 increase.

Since 2011, state funding for UConn has decreased by $55.3 million a year, UConn reports. And even with these cuts, he said, school spending on financial aid has increased, and class sizes have decreased. Both of these accomplishments were paid for through tuition increases.

UConn President Susan Herbst Wednesday declined to answer questions on why officials elected to go with the higher tuition rate and what impact state cuts have had on the 30,000-student university. She did say that she will not ask the state for money to close the gap.

It’s unclear how much additional revenue the 6.5 percent tuition increase will provide for the university to close its yawning $42.6 million deficit. However, a memo provided to The Connecticut Mirror last week showed that the university planned to close nearly three-quarters of its deficit through cuts, or “expense adjustments.”

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the university said that stalling financial aid, cutting research spending and delaying faculty hiring have not been ruled out.

Choi, the provost, said Wednesday that the 56 new faculty members the university promised to hire by next fall when increasing tuition by 26 percent in 2011 will not be affected, nor will research funding be cut.

“We are committed to this,” he said.

UConn officials have said that with the additional faculty, the school expects to land more research grants and money to avoid cuts. Research spending has also taken a financial hit in recent years.

Choi also said that further increases in student enrollment are expected to bring in $4 million in additional tuition revenue next year. The school will also tap its already depleted emergency reserves to further shrink the deficit.

UConn Provost Mun Choi

File photo

UConn Provost Mun Choi

“We are going to use fund balances,” he said. For the year that ends June 30, the university is slated to use $30.9 million from the $72.5 million in emergency budget reserves it had at the start of the current fiscal year. That money will close this year’s 3 percent budget gap.

A final proposal on how the university will close its deficit is not expected until late June, a few days before the board will vote on the budget and before the next fiscal year begins.

But the tuition rates announced Wednesday are not expected to increase further.

“Tuition will not change,” Katrina Spencer, UConn’s budget director, wrote in an email   to another university official this week with a 10-page document outlining next year’s rates.

Still, the latest jump drew sharp criticism from the leaders of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

“Six-and-half percent is outrageous,” said Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester. “Just like homes and  businesses are doing now, they have to make some spending cuts. The university has to find a different way to do business.”

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, said she thinks the latest increase will only intensify the pressure during the 2014 campaigns, and in the next term, to control the rapidly rising cost of higher education.

“Nothing is more disturbing than to see tuition costs go up for our students,” she said.

Willis said Connecticut must begin to follow other states and develop a performance-based budgeting system for its public colleges and universities, demanding tougher educational standards and greater cost-saving efficiencies.  

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