Officials from the state’s public college and university systems told state lawmakers this week what the $150 million proposed cut in state funding for higher education could mean for students — and the options they outlined are grim.
At the state’s dozen community colleges, students may face a steep tuition increase, even longer wait lists for courses or both. At Connecticut State University System’s four regional campuses, officials are warning they may have to rescind their decision to not raise tuition and also cut non-faculty employees. At the University of Connecticut officials said tuition increases will help close the $70 million reduction from the state.
“There is no doubt that there are real cuts coming and they are going to have an impact,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford and co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said after the meeting. “No one thinks it’s a great idea to make these cuts but we have a difficult fiscal picture… Everyone is doing their best to mitigate the cut so it will have as little impact on the students.”
At the community colleges, trustees already have approved a 2.5 percent increase in combined tuition and fees, to $3,490 a year for in-state students But that was before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recommended reducing their state funding by $36 million over the next two years.
Mark Herzog, chancellor of the community college system, told members of the Appropriations Committee’s Higher Education subcommittee that the system will be faced with a 27 percent tuition increase, elimination of 350 full-time positions, or some combination of the two.
A reduction of 350 full-time employees–half of them faculty positions– they estimate will mean the elimination of 716 courses. Community college officials have for some time said their students are already having problems finding a spot in courses they need to graduate.
“It will impact over 6,000 students that would no longer have access to community colleges,” Herzog said, adding tuition increases are not appealing either. “How many people are on the edge who are not able to afford that? Where is the threshold that you start to lose people?”
Officials at CSUS last year froze tuition for the upcoming school year, but with the caveat that they may only be able to uphold that goal if the state doesn’t drastically cut their funding. Malloy proposed cutting funding to CSUS by almost $44 million over the next two years.
Acting CSUS Chancellor Louise Feroe told the subcommittee earlier this week that several steps are being taken to avoid raising tuition, but it may be unavoidable.
“We will make it our highest priority not to use tuition to make up for the cuts,” she said.
She listed several areas the university system is looking at to make up for the reduction — including cutting non-faculty personnel, centralizing financial aid and admissions and trimming the system office’s costs by 15 percent.
“It’s a big deal, but we will do that,” she said. “We have to do that.”
UConn’s chief financial officer, Richard D. Gray, said tuition increases “will be a component of [offsetting] the reduction,” but added, “I suspect it won’t be a very significant component.”
Barry Feldman, chief operating officer at UConn, also said several other initiatives are being considered to help generate new revenue, including increased parking fees, providing more summer and online courses, and increasing tuition for out-of-state students.
“Nothing should be off the table,” he said.
UConn also recently spent almost $4 million to hire a private consulting firm in an effort to help the university identify new revenue sources and places to reduce costs.
Lawmakers asked how soon those savings would be realized and if the UConn was willing to share some of those savings.
“I am writing the check now,” joked Feldman. Officials have said the savings will not come in time help the school’s finances in the next fiscal year.
Private colleges also warn the proposed $12 million cut in state support to their 14 institutions will lead to 4,500 students no longer receiving financial aid over the next two years. Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti sent a letter this week to leaders of the private colleges informing them the state is providing enough funding for current students to continue receiving financial aid. He wrote the cut should only impact new students.
The proposed cuts come against the backdrop of a recent report by the legislature’s research office saying that the growth in higher education budgets has far outstripped the level of state General Fund support for the institutions.
While combined spending by the state’s three higher education systems — UConn, CSUS and the Connecticut Community Colleges — grew by nearly 230 percent over two decades, the General Fund contribution increased by less than 83 percent, according to the Office of Legislative Research.
Meanwhile, in-state tuition and fees increased by 239 percent at the community colleges, 284 percent at UConn and nearly 353 percent at CSUS.
Full-time in-state tuition and mandatory fees at UConn total $10,416. At CSUS they range from $7,861 to $8,350.
The colleges and universities also face uncertainty in what level of federal funding will be available for student financial aid. Congressional House Republicans slashed funding for Pell grants in their approved budget, but the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected that budget.
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chair of the Appropriations’ subcommittee for Higher Education, told UConn officials, “Things don’t look good… We would love to help out more, but we really can’t.”