The decision Thursday by the Connecticut State University System not to raise student tuition and fees next year comes with a word of warning: It might not happen.
“If we get a brutal cut in the state budget . . . we may have to revisit this, but for now I think it’s the right thing to do,” CSUS Board of Trustees Chairman Karl Krapek said after the board voted to approve the first tuition freeze in more than a decade at the system’s four universities.
By approving the freeze, CSUS will forgo what could have been millions of dollars in tuition revenue in the midst of a deep state fiscal crisis that already has begun to threaten programs at the 36,500-student system.
The board also voted not to give raises next year to senior university officials and other non-union management staff as it braces for what is expected to be one of the toughest budget seasons in years.
With the state facing a projected $3.4 billion deficit next year, most public agencies, including colleges and universities, are likely to face budget cuts, but trustees were solidly behind the move not to raise prices for students.
“Our students and potential students are among those most affected by the prolonged economic slump,” said Angelo Messina, chairman of the board’s Finance and Administration Committee.
The freeze would hold tuition and required fees at the current average of $17,997 for in-state students living on campus and $8,043 for commuter students. (The actual figures vary slightly among the four campuses.)
“I think it’s a great decision. Hopefully, they’ll stand by it,” said Ashley Sullivan, a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, where Thursday’s board meeting took place.
Commuter students paid an average of $477 more in tuition and fees this year than they did a year ago while students living on campus paid about $950 more.
“I think [a freeze] is important . . . but like everyone, I’m nervous about the university being able to absorb the deficit,” said Reece Painter, an ECSU senior from West Hartford. “I work in [the] student activities [office],” she said. “We’ve already had to make some cuts.”
ECSU President Elsa Nuñez said budget strains forced Eastern to make cutbacks this year, including a reduction in a series of courses designed for freshmen and elimination of a capstone course for graduate students.
“At the end of the day, I have two choices,” she said. “Do I jeopardize the academic quality of programs or do I reduce the workforce?” A budget cut of 15 percent would mean layoffs for about 250 people, from maintenance workers to faculty, she said.
Nuñez and the presidents of the system’s three other campuses, along with CSUS Chancellor David G. Carter, are among those whose salaries will be frozen next year.
The recommendation to freeze management salaries for non-union managers was first made in July by Krapek and Carter. After a salary freeze a year ago, union and non-union employees received raises this year, but the system came under fire when some managers, including Carter and the presidents, received increases of up to 10 percent.
The raises were later reduced to 5 percent after Gov. M. Jodi Rell called the increases “excessive” and “intolerable” in light of an economic slump that has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs statewide.
Rell issued a statement Thursday praising the salary and tuition freezes. “The decision by the trustees is proper and necessary,” she said, “and will be welcomed by students and their parents.”
Rell said, “I encourage the trustees of the University of Connecticut to follow the example of the CSU System: to hold the line on unaffordable raises and to look for cost-cutting measures and savings before opting for yet another increase in tuition.”
Tuition and fees have not been set for next year at the state’s other two major higher education institutions. At UConn, tuition, fees and room and board this year are $20,968 for in-state students. At the Connecticut Community Colleges system, annual tuition and fees are $3,406.
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