CSCU President Mark Ojakian talked to reporters, including WTIC reporter, Aaron Kupec, following vote to raise tuition at state universities by 5 percent.
CSCU President Mark Ojakian talked to reporters, including WTIC reporter, Aaron Kupec, following the vote to raise tuition at state universities by 5 percent. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Connecticut students attending one of the state’s four regional universities will pay an average of $479 more next year in tuition and fees if they commute and $860 more if they reside at the university, according to a unanimous vote of the Board of Regents for Higher Education on Thursday.

The regents voted to increase tuition by 5 percent next fall  as they struggle to close the projected budget shortfall faced by the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system. The increase will apply to tuition at Eastern, Western, Southern and Central Connecticut State Universities.

“I think that’s reasonable,” said Mark Ojakian, president of the CSCU system. “It’s not something you want to do. Nobody ever wants to raise tuition, but given the budgetary situation that we are in … We are still going to have to cut costs and we are still going to have to dip into reserves at the end.”

Mandatory university fees will be held flat and room fee increases will be capped at 2.5 percent.

Even with the tuition increase, the state universities will have a budget shortfall of about $20 million and will have to dip into reserve accounts to cover much of that cost along with cutting back spending unless the General Assembly provides more funds to the system. Without a tuition increase, the budget gap for the state universities would be $31.7 million.

Gov. Ned Lamont has recommended essentially flat-funding the CSCU institutions, which include the state’s 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College. Ojakian said he doesn’t anticipate having to revisit the 5 percent increase unless the legislature dramatically cuts funding to the system.

The increases mean that in-state commuting students will pay $11,417 in tuition and fees next year, while residential students will pay $24,716.

In the last ten years, tuition and fees at the university have increased by about 52 percent, from $7,178 in 2008-09 to $10,938 this year.

Elena Ruiz, a student representative of the regents board and a junior at Eastern Connecticut State University, said she believes the increase is fair.

“I think they are doing the best that they can with the money that Ned Lamont’s government has provided,” Ruiz said. “I firmly believe that they always strive to keep quality and affordability as the main interest for the students.”

But not everyone in the university community would agree.

Cynthia Stretch, an English professor at Southern Connecticut State University, said the tuition increase “is a sign of the willingness of people in the state to turn middle class and working class families into ATM’s. I feel terrible about my students who are already so stressed about money and time and it’s definitely affecting the work they are able to do in class.

“If they think this is just a couple hundred dollars … It’s on top of tuition increases steadily over the last 10 or 15 years,” Stretch added. “This is not good for Connecticut. We have to find another way.”

The board did not take any action on an increase in tuition for the community colleges, but the board’s finance committee is expected to address the topic next week, with a full board vote taken in April.

Victor Namer, an honors student at Western Connecticut State University, said he is “firmly against the proposed 5 percent tuition increase.”

He said the purpose of the state university system is to “provide a high-quality education to students regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.” The increase, he said, undermines the state’s ability “to provide affordable and accessible education.”

Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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