Over student protest, regents raise college tuition 5.1 percent
Students next year will have to pay 5 percent more to attend 17 of the state’s public colleges, following the adoption of a tuition plan Thursday by the Board of Regents.
Some 200 students and faculty membes protested the vote outside.
“Nobody likes to increase taxes and tuition, etc. The problem with us right now is we are at the end of the food chain,” Regent Richard Balducci said of the $49.4 million, 15.3 percent cut in state funding the system has experienced over the last two years.
To students living on campus, the increase translates to as much as $999 more each year. Commuting students would pay up to $465 more, depending on which campus they attend. Students at the community colleges will be required to pay $188 more per year.
For the students from across the state who attended the meeting with stickers across their mouths reading “No Tuition Hike,” the increase is too much.
Nicole Lopez, a freshman at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, said the increase means taking out more student loans. She pays for the majority of her education through borrowing.
The average student leaves CCSU having borrowed $15,750 in federal loans, which means paying $181 per month over 10 years. One in 20 students will default on those loans during their first three years of leaving college, the White House’s “College Scorecard” reports.
“Across the state, across the nation, stop the war on education,” the students and some faculty chanted outside before coming into the meeting.
“Get up. Get down. There’s a revolution in this town,” they also chanted.
Before voting in favor of the increase, several regents board members placed blame squarely on state legislators and the governor for cutting their appropriation.
“Nobody on the Board of Regents is happy about raising tuition,” Board Chairman Lewis J. Robinson said, adding that the governing board’s hands were tied.
The regents urged the students to take their protest also to state legislators and the governor.
“This is a fight you have to carry out with not only us,” said Balducci, a former speaker of the State House of Representatives, speaking to the board’s two student trustees.
Both student trustees voted against the increase.
“We implore you to reconsider… We have been pushed to the precipitous,” board member Michael Fraser said, noting lobbying the legislature is the next step. “If you think the couple hundred [protesters] here today is impressive, we could at least triple that.”
Balducci, who has been on the Connecticut State Universities governing board for a long time, said after the meeting it’s been a long time since he’s seen students come out in such opposition to increased tuition.
Over the last 10 years, annual tuition and fees at the universities has nearly doubled from $4,531 in 2003 to $8,990 next year.
A spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said having the state provide an affordable education “remains a top priority.”
“The Governor recognizes that the Board of Regents, like so many other institutions, is doing its best to be fiscally responsible while at the same time live up to its core mission,” Andrew Doba said.
Students to governing board: Represent us
A long line of students told the Board of Regents Thursday that they have seen a limited number of course offerings taught by full-time faculty and long waits to see an adviser — all while the cost to finish school increases.
“Five percent increase for less services, think about it folks,” said James Stahr, a student at Quinebaug Valley Community College, told the regents. He returned to school this year after losing his job.
“In my opinion, you’re not doing your job,” Eric Bergenn, a student at Central, told the board.
While the regents, students and faculty said they are doing all they can to lobby legislators to increase state funding, at least one prominent legislator was astounded when no students or faculty showed up to testify before the legislature’s budget-writing committee last month on the governor’s proposed budget.
Sen. Beth Bye, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said during a recent interview she was shocked by the lack of participation. During the legislature’s Higher Education Committee public hearing on the proposed budget, students, faculty and Interim President Philip Austin did testify.
Students are also upset by the makeup of the governing board for the nearly 100,000-student system.
“I am disappointed and frankly kind of ashamed the people who represent us are not representing the interests of my generation,” Miles Wilkerson, a sophomore at Eastern Connecticut State University told the board. “Please don’t do this to us.”
The current 15-member board is made up of two voting student members. The majority of the board is appointed by the governor. Robinson said no decision has been made yet whether to support more students being represented on the board and it is being considered.
Before the state universities and community colleges were merged into one college system two years ago, students had more representation on the board that governed the four state universities with four of the 14 trustee seats being held by students. However, just 2 of the 22-member community college board were students.
Faculty also attended the protest rally and intended to address the board during the public comment section at the end of the meeting, but time ran out. With 15 students still in line to speak and the 20 minutes allotted to them to address the board spent, faculty decided to give them their 20 minutes.
“This is the 99 percent. You many want to let them all speak,” said Michael Shea, a leader for the system’s faculty union.
Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe
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