UConn: State funding must grow to maintain faculty, financial aid gains

University of Connecticut campus in Storrs

University of Connecticut officials adopted a new budget Wednesday that bolsters faculty and financial aid, but warned that major growth in state aid will be needed in the near future to maintain those objectives.

The $1.2 billion budget the Board of Trustees adopted for the 2014-15 fiscal year raises tuition and other fees by 4.3 percent for in-state undergraduate students attending the main campus in Storrs next fall. Increases also were ordered for out-of-state and graduate students.

“We don’t want to step back from excellence,” board chairman Larry McHugh said. “With excellence, there is a cost.”

The new budget, which boosts spending by $52 million or about 4.6 percent over the current fiscal year, adds 61 new faculty positions – including 35 posts tied to Next Generation Connecticut, a new program designed to dramatically expand enrollment in engineering and technology courses.

Most of the spending growth in the new budget is driven by additional staffing costs, contractually mandated pay hikes, and rising fringe benefit expenses. The latter is tied not to enhanced benefits, but rather to an ongoing effort to increase state agency contributions to long-underfunded worker retirement programs.

UConn President Susan Herbst noted that the university has reduced its student-to-faculty ratio from about 18 students to 16 students over the last two years. And the student side of that equation is projected to fall just under 16 in the new budget.

“That’s a huge decrease,” Herbst said, adding that additional faculty and course selections will increase the odds students can get the courses they need quicker – and ultimately graduate in less time.

The new budget also boosts financial aid to students by almost $8 million to just under $140 million – a total that also stands 18 percent higher than it did five years ago.

Herbst said that 86 percent of UConn students receive some form of financial aid.

Future funding

But while UConn can take pride in growing faculty and financial aid among relatively lean times for state government, the university will need significantly more money from the Capitol in coming years to maintain these efforts, said Lysa Teal, associate vice president of finance and budget.

The legislature and governor authorize financial support for UConn generally through two accounts in the state budget. The first and largest involves a yearly block grant payment to the university to cover various operating costs. The second account involves funds budgeted to cover a portion of UConn’s fringe benefit costs.

While the UConn budget that begins next week is balanced, university officials project that in 2015-16, it will need a 13 percent increase in its state block grant to maintain current services — and to continue a Next Generation initiative expected to boost enrollment by 5,000 students at Storrs and about 1,500 on the Stamford branch campus over the next decade.

And another 8.1 percent increase will be needed in 2016-17.

“That is going to be a challenge for us,” Teal said of the need for more state funding, “especially with the anticipated arrival of so many more students.”

Teal added that while state officials have been generous to UConn given the fiscal challenges facing state government, the university’s future hinges in part on an accelerated economic recovery. “Certainly we are hoping for a better future.”

Total state budget support for UConn peaked in 2011 when $329 million was dedicated to university costs.

But legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy slashed almost 15 percent off that total in 2012 as they grappled with a state budget deficit of historic proportions.

The new UConn budget projects $348.7 million in state support in 2014-15 – meaning the university will have waited four years to recover the funds it lost in 2011-12.

The trustees had responded to that earlier cut by ordering a four-stage tuition-and-fee hike schedule. This new budget implements the third round of increases in that schedule.

Tuition, room, board and other fees for Connecticut residents enrolled as undergraduates at the Storrs campus this fall will total $24,518, up 4.3 percent, with tuition alone rising 6.5 percent. For out-of-state residents, the total cost will be $44,698 -– an increase of 5.3 percent — with tuition alone rising 6.5 percent.

Graduate students on the Storrs campus are facing similar tuition and fee increases.

The total cost for a Connecticut resident is $27,666, up 4.8 percent. And for an out-of-state graduate student, it is $47,138, up 5.5 percent.

The university estimates 30,808 students will take classes on the Storrs campus or on regional campuses this fall.

Health center funds

In other business Wednesday, the Board of Trustees approved a $947 million spending plan for the 2014-15 fiscal year for the UConn Health Center in Farmington, home of the university’s medical and dental schools and the John Dempsey Hospital.

The proposed budget for the health center is up 6.8 percent from the $887 million the university expects to spend this fiscal year.

The health center is projecting fringe benefit costs will increase about 14 percent in the new fiscal year, while salaries for faculty and non-faculty will rise by 5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Tuition for medical and dental school students will rise by 5 percent in 2014-15.

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