Tuition hike pitched for public college system

It’s almost certain to become more expensive to attend the Connecticut State Universities and community colleges.

Board of Regents President Mark Ojakian on Wednesday recommended state residents pay $480 more to attend the four regional state universities — a 5 percent increase — and $141 more to enroll in community colleges, a 3.5 percent increase.

If the system’s governing board approves these increases as expected during its meeting next Tuesday, the cost to attend these public schools will have doubled over the past 13 years.

In a letter to the system’s 90,000 students, Ojakian wrote of the major fiscal hurdles facing the schools and the need for another tuition increase next school year.

“I am fully aware that this is not the news you wanted to receive. Nor is it the news I wanted to be delivering,” he wrote. “The high quality education that you expect and deserve is not a sacrifice we are willing to make.”

But major cuts are expected for the college system since this tuition hike is only expected to close half of the system’s $37.3 million deficit.

“This would be the best case scenario,” reads an administration analysis that the tuition hike would still leave an $18.1 million shortfall.

That analysis includes numerous optimistic assumptions when calculating the shortfall.

It assumes the cost of retirement and health care benefits will not increase. However, fringe costs for all state employees – including college staff – regularly jump from year to year, reports the Office of the State Comptroller.

It also assumes that enrollment will not decrease next year, despite steady drops at the community colleges and Connecticut State Universities in recent years.

It also assumes unionized employees will not get raises and state lawmakers will not cut the system’s budget more than the governor recommended in February. However, the state’s deficit has grown considerably since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed cutting funding for the school system by $26 million, and the labor unions have not agreed to pay freezes.

“This recommendation for fiscal 2017 tuition and fees does not close the budget gap, even in the best-case scenario. It does at a minimum help defray the deficit and mitigate the impact,” the tuition analysis reads. “There are significant hurdles ahead to balance our budgets.”

Students on the Central Connecticut tTate University campus in New Britain

CCSU

Students on the Central Connecticut State University campus in New Britain

If the deficit does grow, the president intends to look to potential program reductions, layoffs, leaving positions vacant when employees retire or leave, increasing class sizes and cutting services.

The college system has undergone millions in cuts in recent year.

The system office was able to close a mid-year budget gap this year by cutting spending at the community colleges by $9.5 million and the state universities by $5.3 million. Most of the savings was achieved by spending less on full-time staff than the Board of Regents had previously budgeted.

These cuts came on top of $34.5 million in reductions that college leaders already approved for the current fiscal year.

The University of Connecticut, which is governed by a separate president and board, approved a 6.7 percent tuition hike for the next school year in December.

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