The University of Connecticut's main campus in Storrs

Thomas Katsouleas highlighted his inauguration ceremony Friday as UConn’s 16th president with an announcement that lower-income Connecticut undergraduates starting at the university next fall will be eligible for free tuition.

President Thomas Katsouleas greets audience members following his inauguration ceremony held at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. Peter Morenus / UConn Photo

“It is critical for U.S. higher education institutions to work to change both the perception and reality of what they deliver,” Katsouleas said. “This is critical for the future prosperity of Connecticut. To keep our brightest, most talented and most diverse human capital in Connecticut, we must continue to offer as many of them as possible a high quality and affordable education in their state.”

During his inauguration, which was held at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the university’s Storrs campus, Katsouleas spoke about how UConn’s new financial aid program — called the Connecticut Commitment — addresses a problem in higher education.

“Higher education is under unprecedented pressure to transform itself,” Katsouleas said. “Although data continue to support the strong correlation between more education and more opportunity, namely higher employment rates, and lifetime earnings, increasingly this is not the narrative experienced by a large portion of middle America.”

He said that for the first time in history, a Pew survey showed that a majority of Americans in some demographics see “top tier institutions as not for them, as for the elite and even a scam. And this is the same demographic that swung the past presidential election. So it matters.”

The announcement of the plan received a standing ovation from the audience.

Katsouleas also used the moment to announce an aggressive campaign to raise additional funds for the needs-based scholarships to fund the program, which he estimated will benefit approximately 6,000 UConn students over the next four years. He said he also hopes to increase the income threshold over the next five to seven years.

“But affordability is not enough,” Katsouleas said. “We must continue to  invest in excellence, including doubling research over the next seven to 10 years to ensure that we attract the the most distinguished faculty and diverse faculty to teach our students.”

To that end, he announced two faculty hiring initiatives, including one targeting faculty who are noted because of their specialty or prominence and another focusing on the hiring of a cluster of faculty to boost the expertise of a department.

Katsouleas didn’t put a pricetag on the financial aid program or the faculty hiring plans. UConn spokesman Stephanie Reitz said it wasn’t yet clear what those costs will be.

The tuition initiative will provide students whose families have an annual income of $50,000 or below with the opportunity to come to the university tuition-free. Tuition this fall was $13,798.

The program would not include room and board, which came to $13,238 this semester, or fees at $3,428, but  Reitz, spokeswoman for the university, said that if students have other scholarships aimed at defraying tuition, they can use funds left over in their Connecticut Commitment grants to cover those costs.

Reitz said that many of the students from families with incomes well below $50,000 will already qualify for federal grants and other scholarship programs, but she said there is a band of students whose families make too much money to qualify for the federal grants, but not enough to be able to afford UConn.

“We are finding that a lot of students in that particular cohort are not even applying to UConn because they are realizing they can’t afford to make up the difference,” Reitz said.

She said the situation disadvantages UConn because the university “misses out on great students” who don’t feel they can afford to attend.

President Thomas Katsoueas, left, and Gov. Ned Lamont onstage during the inauguration ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.  Peter Morenus / UConn Photo
President Thomas Katsoueas, left, and Gov. Ned Lamont onstage during the inauguration ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.  Peter Morenus / UConn Photo

Beginning with incoming freshmen next fall, students may receive the Connecticut Commitment grant for a maximum of four years if they remain in good academic standing and their families continue to meet the income qualifications. Incoming transfer students are also eligible for the award for up to two years with the same conditions.

All admitted Connecticut residents who are enrolling as freshmen or transfer students will be automatically considered for the Connecticut Commitment institutional grant if they fill out the FAFSA form by the Feb. 15 annual deadline.

The award is also available to more than one sibling at a time.

Katsouleas came to UConn in August after serving as a vice president and provost at the University of Virginia. He was previously the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University.

His inauguration Friday included a morning of presentations by faculty in their areas of expertise and an afternoon ceremony with visitors that included his father, visiting from Greece, and the Greek Orthodox Archibishop of America, His Eminence Elpidorphoros Lambriniadis.

“There are so many family and friends here and wonderful guests, about half of whom I know, with whom the few hours we have together are a glowy and emotional blur, that it feels a bit like a wedding, ” Katsouleas said,” and since the Greek community is well-represented … I’m going to call this my ‘big fat Greek inauguration.’”

“But please don’t break the plates” at the reception following the event, Katsouleas said.

Richard Brodhead, the former president of Duke University and former Dean of Yale College, and Gov. Ned Lamont also spoke at the event.

Brodhead, who hired Katsouleas at Duke, said he is a “warm, decent, genuinely nice person. That’s not enough to qualify you to be president but, believe me,when combined with other gifts, it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

He said that Katsouleas’s background as a leading plasma scientist and engineer show him to be a problem-solver.

“At heart, engineers are people who see tough problems as challenges to their ingenuity,” Brodhead said. “When you see a dead end, Tom is going to want to get creative and he’s going to expect you to join that fun as well.”

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.

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. I thought state schools by definition offered a taxpayer- supported, low tuition alternative to private schools. The CSU system and community colleges offer much lower tuition already, but now the taxpayer gets to subsidize free tuition at UCONN? What happened to the belt-tightening to control costs at state schools?

    Sometimes I wonder why people even work for a living in our People’s Republic. With Section 8 housing, Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and now free tuition, it truly doesn’t pay to work for many. What’s next, free cars?

  2. College needs to be affordable and available to more people but the article doesn’t say how this program is being paid for. With the poor business climate in CT, many of these students will get their free education and move where they can live without oppressive taxation and enormous government. Connecticut, no longer a place for families.

  3. More UConn pie in the sky. Now a certain segment of our population will receive free tuition, the same free tuition that has been afforded, for years, to students whose parents are staff and administration at UConn. Over the years, UConn has morphed into just another money-grubbing corporation or, if you will, a small scale Department of Defense.

  4. So let me guess, who’s gona be footing the bill for this. This ain’t cheap in a time when the Connecticut economy is on the brink of Collapse. The sad thing is that this ain’t gona help because many college kids would move to states that cater to them such as Maine, who’s offering instate tuition to Ct residents. Mass, who’s luring legalized weed to college students.

    1. I can assure you marijuana has never been hard to find for Massachusetts college students.

  5. Sounds like UConn got themselves another real winner. He announces a free tuition plan without having calculated how much it will cost? There are two possible ways this will be paid for: Either raising tuition on other students or taxpayers paying for it. There is a third option – he can fire the legion of administrators Susan Herbst hired at $250K each. And shut down the football program which has become an embarrassment to the university.

  6. This will be paid for by the taxpayers of CT. Are we going to track the success rate of these students or allow them a pass? Will they be responsible for any cost or is a free ride. How about the student that have busted their butts to get good grades but their parents make too much? Do they get penalized? How about they start at a community college and then transfer their credits to the higher cost schools? Another state cash cow being paid for by the taxpayers. And the democrats are wondering why people are leaving in droves.

  7. You know how a magician will direct your attention in one direction so he can deceive you in another?
    Well, when you look at the UCONN FAQ’s for this program it states that you do not have to be a legal citizen to be eligible for free tuition.
    THAT, my friends, is the real plan here. Giving free tuition to citizens who qualify (look!-shiny object!!) was just the trick to get everyone up and out of their seats cheering and not noticing how they’d been deceived..

Leave a comment