As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy faces mounting skepticism about the funding cuts made to the state’s public colleges and universities, he is pointing to reductions in higher education elsewhere in the country in defense of the cuts he has made here.
A new report from a national group, however, says that when factoring in the higher cost of living in Connecticut and the type of public colleges the state funds, the price here is 30 percent higher than in other states.
Meanwhile, fielding a question from a concerned student at Central Connecticut State University this week, Malloy justified the $134.1 million in cuts the public institutions have incurred since he took office two years ago.
“Just to share some of the national statistics, Connecticut’s support for our public institutions, although it has decreased to some extent, has decreased about 20 percent less than the national average,” Malloy told the student on WNPR’s “Where We Live.”
“We’re 20 percent ahead of the national average when it comes to looking at savings from our state university systems.”
Over the last five school years, Connecticut lawmakers cut a smaller percentage of state support for higher education than most other states have, reports the Grapevine Project, which tracks state support for higher education from Illinois State University.
However, in the past two fiscal years, as the newly elected governor worked to close a massive budget deficit, the state far outpaced national rates in cutting funding for higher education. While states have reduced funding for their public institutions an average of 5 percent since the 2010-11 school year, Connecticut cut funding by 11 percent, the report states.
National statistics aside, for Eric Bergenn, the caller on WNPR and president of the student government association at CCSU, the cut means one thing.
“As a result, tuition costs are going up,” he told the governor. “I want to know what the logic is behind funding less money for higher education.”
With tuition likely to increase again next year, Connecticut is about to cross a historic threshold in which students pay more than the state to cover the public institutions’ costs. Tuition revenue last school year covered 47.5 percent of the costs at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, a 3.5 percent jump from the previous year, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association outlined in its annual report released last week.
“State rescissions have consequences. That’s just life,” Philip Austin, interim president of the state’s largest public college system, told the legislature’s Appropriations Higher Education subcommittee this week, of the fiscal situation the Board of Regents finds itself in.
When it comes to states’ relying on tuition dollars, New England states are unique in how dependent they are, says Andrew Carlson, a senior policy analysis with the state executive officers’ group.
“There is definitely a history in the New England states of deriving the majority of revenue from tuition,” he said.
Coupling Connecticut’s 30 percent higher costs of providing higher education with any further declines in state support is risky, Carlson said.
“It’s going to have a huge impact on students,” he said. “To argue you are below average doesn’t justify cuts and increasing tuition.”
The governor’s proposed two-year budget would flat fund the 17 institutions in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (ConnSCU) system, while the system’s costs are increasing.
The governor has proposed a 10-year plan that would boost state support to drastically increase enrollment at the University of Connecticut. For the 2014-15 school year, the state would increase support by $17.4 million. Over the last two fiscal years, the state has cut funding for UConn by $37.2 million, not including the reduction in state funding to cover health and retirement benefits.
Regardless of the impact of the cuts, Malloy told the caller Wednesday that education is a priority of his and that the reductions were unavoidable.
“We needed to put a budget together. That budget is in fact education-centric, pre-K through graduate school. It does recognize that we are in terribly difficult times, and therefore I had to make reductions,” he said.
Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe