UConn again looking to tuition increases to fill budget gap

UConn's main campus at Storrs

The CT Mirror

UConn’s main campus at Storrs

The University of Connecticut will consider closing up to one-third of its $40.2 million budget shortfall by boosting how much it costs students to attend the public university.

“There is a gap that has opened up and is, honestly, growing,” Scott Jordan, the school’s budget chief, told the school’s governing board Wednesday. “We do need to turn to tuition…We need to protect everything we have built.”

The board could consider and approve tuition hikes as early as next month. For each percentage point tuition is increased, the university expects an additional $2.6 million in revenue.

The increases would follow years of tuition hikes. Over the last five years the cost for Connecticut residents to attend UConn has increased by 28.3 percent — from $10,416 for the 2010-11 school year to the current $13,364.

The looming shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 2016 equates to a 3 percent hole in the $1.3 billion needed to continue providing existing programs and services and a pay raises for staff of between 1 and 3 percent.

“Something does have to give when we find ourselves in a dire fiscal situation,” Jordan told reporters after the Board of Trustees meeting in Storrs. “The university has a lot of financial pressure.”

He expects UConn to face deficits year after year.

“It does feel like the new reality,” he said, pointing out that UConn remains affordable and spending on financial aid continues to rise.

The tuition and fees that students must pay to attend UConn have covered a growing share of the university’s expenses. This means the university is now relying on tuition more than on state funding to cover its budget.

The public university’s spending has grown by $160 million over the last five years — a  15 percent increase in annual spending — while annual state support has increased during that time by just $27 million.

The two-year budget state lawmakers adopted earlier this year is slated to send UConn millions more, but university leaders are now anticipating state support to be reduced as lawmakers grapple with closing deficits that have popped up since the state budget was approved.

“We are going to be part of that solution. So everyone should brace for that,” UConn President Susan Herbst told her governing board Wednesday.

University officials say their cost increases have been largely out of their control because the governor’s office negotiated with labor unions years of pay raises and health and retirement benefits that have ultimately cost UConn millions.

“The state sends us the bill,” said Jordan. “State support hasn’t kept up with the negotiated increases.”

School officials are now negotiating with their labor unions and declined Wednesday to say how much they hope to achieve in savings through the next contract.

story in chartsThe university will, however, be negotiating for themselves this time on how much their employees are paid, Jordan said.

“We have some control of that going forward,” he said.

The last time the board approved tuition increases was in December 2011, when they approved a four-year tuition schedule. At the time UConn pitched the increases, which averaged about 6 percent a year, as a way to hire an additional 290 faculty so students could get the courses they need to graduate in four years and class sizes could be reduced.

Also, when the legislature approved a massive $2 billion plan for the university to renovate and build new classrooms and dorms — dubbed “Next Generation” — the university also promised to hire dozens more faculty to accommodate a jump in student enrollment. That initiative has since been scaled back, and the legislature put into law that Next Generation would move forward “within available appropriations.”

Since Next Generation and the four-year tuition increase were approved, the school has seen a net increase of 200 faculty working at UConn.

It is not clear how the university will close the portion of its deficit not covered by a tuition increase. The governing board typically adopts its budget in June each year.

A budget presentation will be given to interested students and staff at UConn Thursday night at 5 p.m. Click here to review the presentation given to the trustees Wednesday.

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