Officials at the University of Connecticut intend to vote this week to further increase the cost of attending the state’s flagship university over and above the 26 percent, four-year increase already approved.
UConn President Susan Herbst Monday outlined for the General Assembly’s budget-writing committee the university’s dire fiscal picture despite the $15 million infusion from the state the school will receive for fiscal 2014-15 to fund the “Next Generation” initiative.
“We are pretty much down to the bone,” Herbst told the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve made about as many cuts on the non-academic side as we can. We are going to have to start in the academic side, and it’s very, very worrisome. It’s dangerous.”
If the Board of Trustees approves $76 in additional fees for full-time students Wednesday, Connecticut residents would each pay $678 more in tuition and fees next school year –- a 5.6 percent increase over this year.
In addition, board members had been considering further boosting the cost for students to live on campus by another $188 over what was approved in the four-year plan they adopted in 2011. However, officials decided Monday evening not to move forward with that increase.
If the fee increase is approved, students living on campus would pay $1,022 more than they do this school year.
Herbst said her 30,000-student university system is facing “very difficult budgetary times” and has yet to figure out how to close its yawning budget gap. This gap is largely the result of the huge increases the university must pay to cover its employees’ health and retirement benefits.
“We are working on it,” she said, hinting to legislators that the initial promise to hire hundreds of additional faculty when the 26 percent, four-year plan was approved may need to be revised.
“We’ve made so much progress. I would hate to see us fall out of the top 20 [state research universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report], have our faculty-student ratio start to creep back up again, but if we can’t figure out how to do this, given all of our restraints, you know we are in danger of that,” she said. The university has already canceled the hiring of 12 planned faculty and staff members for next school year.
For the current fiscal year, the university was forced to tap $30.8 million from its emergency budget reserves to cover 3 percent of its operating costs. Herbst said that deficit remains as the school plans next year’s budget, despite the $15 million increase in state support next year to fund the “Next Generation” initiative at the school.
The president said the $825 million in additional state funding UConn is set to receive for Next Generation over the next 10 years is earmarked for additional faculty and scholarships for the planned influx of 6,580 new students.
“Even with this additional funding, the university will still be wrestling with some difficult budgetary decisions,” Herbst said. “The university will still have to address its structural deficit.”
The state’s flagship university ended last fiscal year June 30 with $71.8 million in reserves — which was before officials decided to use $30.8 million of it to cover the deficit for fiscal 2014. The reserve fund has not dipped below $40 million since 2004, when the system’s budget was two-thirds the size it is now. The use of $30.8 million this year will likely leave the fund at a historically low level.
Several legislators expressed concern Monday about the school’s affordability. Last month, nonpartisan legislative researchers concluded that UConn has become increasingly less affordable for middle- and low-income students.