Steep tuition hike pitched for many community college students

Norwalk Community College file photo

Norwalk Community College

Tuition and fees would increase next semester for community college students who take more than 12 credit hours, and the regional Connecticut state universities would stop offering students health insurance under two proposals to balance a difficult budget for the state college system.

Currently, community college students who pay full-time tuition can take up to 18 credit hours. A proposal that the Board of Regents’ finance panel will consider next Thursday would charge students $150 in tuition and $74 in mandatory fees for each credit they take over 12. A student who took 18 credit hours would be charged an extra $1,344 over the current cost of $2,084 a semester, a 64.5 percent increase.

“We expect some students will not enroll in extra credits if they are not offered for free,” said a proposal the college system’s administration released Thursday.

There were 17,073 community college students who took more than 12 credits a semester last year, about one of every six community college students. If the colleges had charged for credit hours in excess of 12, the proposal estimates, the colleges would have collected $8.7 million in tuition revenue.

Officials expect the tuition increase to impact low-income students less since more of the students who take more than 15 credits come from higher-income families. Also, the tuition increase would “still fall within the amount of support provided by [federal] Pell grants.”

Connecticut college officials say community colleges in other states are already charging students for each credit they take instead of charging a flat rate for full-time students.

“This policy change puts Connecticut in line with other New England states such as Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire who all charge per credit hour,” Alice Pritchard, the system’s chief of staff emailed board members Friday morning. “Although some students may opt out of taking additional credits, some will continue, which will bring additional needed revenue to support the faculty, staff and resources necessary to hold these classes.

“This is something we’ve considered for many years but are proposing this policy now out of necessity, Pritchard wrote. “Though this will present a challenge for some students, it is a fair and fiscally responsible action and ensures we can provide access to higher education for all of our students.”

Regarding the end to student health insurance at the regional state universities, the plan estimates that many students would qualify for Medicaid or would be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Last year, one in 10 students at the state schools enrolled in the student health plan at an average cost to them of nearly $3,000 a year.

“Although we have offered health care coverage to our CSU students, there are now alternative avenues to access available to our students which can help reduce the costs for those who need coverage,” the plan reads.

It’s not clear how much that plan would save the system.

“This will open access to much more affordable insurance options through Medicaid and subsidized private coverage through Access Health,”Pritchard emailed board members Friday.

State funding for the state’s community colleges has not kept pace with the system’s increased costs. Declining student enrollment also has exacerbated the system’s fiscal outlook.

“As state funding of the CCCs continues to be stressed by the state’s fiscal position, management believes it to be appropriate to charge by the credit hour taken in order to match the cost with the benefit received,” the proposal reads.

The cost to attend these public schools has doubled over the past 13 years. Earlier this year, the regents voted to increase tuition for the current semester by 3.5 percent, a $141 increase. Mid-year tuition hikes are very unusual.

Updated at 11:50 a.m. to reflect comments from the college system’s chief of staff.