Sorrows come not as single spies, Shakespeare told us, but as whole battalions. And Connecticut’s budget woes in recent months have appeared in wave upon wave. The General Assembly faces a daunting task as it drafts the state’s budget for the next biennium.
Because the University of Connecticut has one of the larger budgets among state institutions and generates its own revenue through tuition, grants, and donations to the UConn Foundation, legislators might be tempted to view UConn’s block grant simply as an expense.
Such a view is shortsighted: UConn represents a vital infrastructure in the state’s knowledge economy. Failing to maintain that infrastructure today will have harmful effects for a decade or more.
When the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture annually graduate skilled agriculture experts to keep Connecticut’s farms productive and prosperous and its citizens healthy, UConn is working for you.
When the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Dental Medicine graduate hundreds of new clinicians for today’s needs and dozens of new health researchers and professors to educate clinicians for the next three decades, UConn is working for you.
When the Neag School of Education graduates hundreds of students each year to become your children’s and grandchildren’s teachers — and 20 years from now, their children’s — UConn is working for you.
When the School of Engineering each year graduates specialists in biomedical, chemical, mechanical, electrical or computer engineering to drive Connecticut’s innovative technology industries, UConn is working for you.
When the English and mathematics departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate new teachers in quantitative and language arts skills, essential for today’s knowledge economy, who will educate young citizens of Connecticut for the next 30 years, UConn is working for you.
When the university provides, as it did this year, more than $90 million in financial aid, an increase of over 100 percent from 10 years ago, UConn is working for you.
Twenty-five years ago, the General Assembly appropriated half of UConn’s annual budget. Today that portion has been nearly cut in half (29 percent), necessitating tuition increases and more robust efforts by the UConn Foundation. In the intervening quarter-century, UConn’s student body has become larger, more diverse, and more complex. The research profile of UConn’s faculty has achieved national and international distinction with direct benefits to Connecticut’s insurance, technology, finance, and maritime industries and to Connecticut’s taxpayers.
UConn provides Connecticut’s knowledge infrastructure. As with our underfunded transportation infrastructure, failing to provide base adequacy funding now will not only have immediate harm but will produce cascading consequences. Deep cuts in the current biennial budget (and perhaps the next) will impair UConn for the next decade.
Next Generation Connecticut, a visionary and ambitious science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiative designed to increase student enrollment and expand research capacity, is in jeopardy. New construction, already bond funded, may be put on hold (with increased costs from the delay) because there is no point in capital construction if we cannot increase students and faculty to use new buildings.
UConn has bucked both a regional and national demographic problem: declining applications and enrollments due to a falling number of college-aged students. UConn works for an increasing number of students admitted each year.
To the taxpayers and General Assembly of Connecticut, I urge: Maintain UConn’s state funding. Keep UConn working for you.
Thomas Lawrence Long is associate professor in residence in the School of Nursing with a joint appointment in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.