The 23-percent, four-year increase in tuition and fees put in place 13 months ago for students at the University of Connecticut may not end there.
Faced with further cuts to their budget from state lawmakers, UConn officials last November were considering another mid-year increase. They have since decided against such a move, but have made no promises that students will be spared from further increases next school year.
When approving the 23-percent increase in December, 2011, trustees built in an asterisk to the tuition schedule — if state funding decreases further, tuition can increase another 2 percent overall without another vote by the college’s governing board.
It wouldn’t be the first time UConn officials would ask students to pay more after adopting a four-year tuition plan intended to give students and parents predictability on costs.
In an unusual midyear adjustment to tuition or fees last April, the Board of Trustees voted to increase charges by another 1.2 percent, or $120 for undergraduate students. Two weeks later, the General Assembly voted to cut state funding to UConn by $18.1 million, more than the system trustees had budgeted for when they adopted their tuition strategy the previous December. The funding reduction would have allowed the university to invoke the asterisk provision and raise tuition by $48, but it did not.
While employing another ituition hike remains an option, officials are currently looking for other ways to absorb the loss in revenue, a spokesperson said.
Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz promised any further increases to the current tuition rates would be approved by the Board of Trustees.
When pitching the 23 percent increase 13 months ago, UConn president Susan Herbst sold it as the way to pay to hire 290 new tenure-track faculty. Six months later, that number had dropped to “approximately” 275 new hires.
At its meeting last month, board members were told that the college system has a net increase of 50 new faculty since last year, though the hiring plan that accompanied the tuition increase promised 70. Herbst said she would make up for the shortfall next school year.
In April, when pitching the additional 1.2 percent increase, UConn’s provost and budget chief wrote the board that the bump was necessary to pay for technology on campus. The new $120 fee charged to the system’s 23,000 undergraduate students and $80 for most of the school’s graduate students will bring in at least $3 million in new revenue a year.
In addition to the fee increase, the residential rental property rate for students living in university housing was also increased by 4 percent. It’s unclear how much additional funding this will generate for UConn.
Brien T. Buckman, the student trustee on UConn’s governing board, asked that the vote be delayed for further review, but his request was denied by fellow board members and the increase was approved. He and Richard T. Carbrary Jr. opposed the measure.
This brought the cost for an in-state student to attend UConn to $11,362, a 6.5 percent boost from the previous year.
More increases to come?
On November 8, 2012, the university’s budget chief floated the idea of yet another mid-year tuition and fee increase in a budget update posted on his webpage. This increase was for another half a percent. Two weeks later, the governor announced a $10.3 million midyear budget cut to UConn.
A spokeswoman for the system said officials have since decided against another mid-year increase.
“The reductions ended up being absorbed through efficiencies and other budget adjustments without the need for that last-ditch option,” UConn Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz wrote in an email.
Reitz said while next year’s tuition review process is “still under way,” tuition will be “the last option considered.”
The asterisk safety valve — which would have allowed for tuition to be raised by another 2 percent over the course of the four-year phase-in, or $216 a year for undergraduate students — is also off the table without a vote of the board, she said. That increase alone would have provided at least an additional $5 million a year in revenue for the university.
The state faces a deficit of $1 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and state appropriations for UConn and the other public college system account for at least 5 percent of the state’s overall budget. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made no promises so far to shield higher education or any other agencies from cuts when he presents his budget to the legislature in early February.
Regardless, Reitz said, “The intention is to make whatever other budget decisions are possible to absorb any additional state cuts elsewhere while remaining on the tuition adjustment schedule adopted under the faculty hiring plan.”
State funding to UConn has decreased by $47.9 million since 2011, or 13.6 percent. Connecticut lawmakers are not unique in turning to cuts to higher education to help close state budget deficits. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association reports that between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school year, 41 states cut funding for higher education. Thirteen states during that time cut a higher percentage than Connecticut of their state appropriation.
Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas at @jacquelinerabe