Brett Calash, whose family lost its home in Milford in Hurricane Sandy last year, will likely graduate from the University of Connecticut with nearly $50,000 in student loans.
“A lot of things I am going to want to do will have to be put on hold,” the economics and political science major said Thursday, the same day as a legislative hearing on a report on how the state’s flagship university “has become less affordable”.
“Prices may appear out of reach for students from low-income families,” the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations office reported. “Income needed for UConn rose most for low income students … Net price consumes a larger share of family resources as income declines.”
The change of income needed to afford college between 2008 and 2011 was progressive at most of the country’s flagship universities, “but not UConn,” the report concluded.
When Calash started UConn in 2010, tuition and fees were $10,416 a year. Today the cost is $12,022 -– a 15.4 percent increase over the last three years.
While prices have spiked drastically at many of the 47 flagship universities around the country that legislative researchers compared UConn to, the average price paid “rose unevenly” for UConn students from families with income under $30,000 a year.
After taking financial aid into account, low-income UConn students paid on average $7,238 during the 2010-11 school year –- a 13 percent increase over two years. UConn students from families who make over $75,000 a year, however, saw their costs rise during that same time by 2 percent and those with incomes over $110,000 by 6 percent.
But UConn President Susan Herbst told legislators at the state Capitol complex Thursday that the $80 million provided in financial aid for UConn students each year levels the playing field for low-income students.
“Is UConn accessible, affordable and a good value to students? By every measure, the answer is a resounding yes. Connecticut taxpayers and policymakers should be quite proud of UConn — where our core principles of access, affordability and quality guide every program we offer, service we provide and major decision we make,” Herbst said.
The average debt of students who graduate from UConn was $23,800 during the 2010-11 school year, a $5,600 increase in what the average student had to borrow eight years earlier. Sixty-three percent of UConn graduates will leave with debt compared with 50 percent at the nation’s other flagship universities, the report concludes.
Wealthy Fairfield skews UConn’s affordability numbers
“UConn’s affordability is relatively favorable because its prices are viewed in the context of the state’s high [median] income levels,” researchers concluded.
Those income levels –- which include wealthy lower Fairfield county -– unrealistically impact UConn’s affordability measures, said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, co-chairman of the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee.
“Those extremely wealthy people in Fairfield County skews the numbers,” Kissel, a UConn graduate, told the researchers. “I just know people are really struggling right now, and they are making sacrifices.”
Saying he is concerned that the price is no longer affordable for the middle class, Kissel asked the researchers to pull the extremely wealthy people from the equation in their final report.
A September report from Connecticut Voices for Children cited U.S. Census data showing that Fairfield County not only had the highest median annual income in the state in 2012 at $79,841, but it surpassed the statewide average of $67,276 by almost 19 percent.
While Fairfield County includes Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest — and one of its poorest– cities, lower Fairfield County, long attractive to Wall Street’s financial services sector, boasts some of the nation’s wealthiest communities. State income tax filers in Darien, for example, paid an average of $17,818 two years ago, the same year those in Hartford paid an average of $894.
According to the nonpartisan state fiscal analysts, more than 40 percent of all state income tax receipts are generated in Fairfield County.
Students take on UConn affordability
Edward Courchaine, the student body president, said he thinks UConn is affordable.
“At the end of the day, I could afford UConn. I could come here and actually leave here with a minimal amount of debt,” Courchaine said. “I think my choice has paid off in the end.”
And while Courchaine is confident he will be able to get a job to pay off his loans, not everyone is as fortunate. One in 40 UConn students will default on their student loans shortly after they graduate, according to the report.
“A lot of my friends graduating with philosophy or fine arts are really going to have a hard time getting a job to pay their loans,” said Calash, the student with nearly $50,000 in student loans.
Brien Buckman, who graduated with $12,000 in student loans last year, said he hasn’t had a problem paying back his loans.
“It’s very manageable. I have a good job,” he said of his job at Mastercard in Stamford and his $150 a month loan payment. “But I have friends who have more than $50,000 or $60,000 in debt, and their lives are very difficult.”
Tom Haggerty, a teacher in Bridgeport who has $10,000 in remaining debt from UConn, said, “I can imagine for others with more [debt], it would be difficult.”
When will tuition increases end?
Tuition has doubled over the last 12 years, and no promises have been made by university officials to stave off further increases.
In-state students will have a tuition increase by another $1,112 over the next two years –- a 12 percent jump. University officials are midway through a four-year, 24.2 percent tuition increase plan to help hire nearly 300 new faculty.
University officials are also expected to vote before the end of the year on a plan that would have students pay a new $488 fee to build a new student rec center.
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