Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system governing board voted to increase tuition at the state’s 12 community colleges for the upcoming academic year.

Tuition and mandatory fees at the state’s community colleges are currently $4,476 but will increase to $4,700 for full-time students for the 2022-23 academic year.

CSCU leaders say the decision to raise tuition at the colleges is due to factors including increasing labor costs, the system running out of federal funds and colleges continuing to see a drop in enrollment.

Ben Barnes, CSCU chief financial officer, explained that before the pandemic, the system’s finances were already “weak.” But since the pandemic, he said, revenue has dropped across the system by over $80 million a year.

“We estimate, between this year’s shortfall and next year, we have a deficit of about $270 million,” Barnes said. “The Governor’s [budget] proposal would have provided close to $100 million of that. We’ve asked the appropriations committee to give us $175 million in additional aid to get us through ’23. So we’re in deep trouble.”

For the last three years, tuition at community colleges has remained flat. But Barnes said that while it was a difficult decision to make, one of the reasons they thought increasing tuition now was “reasonable to do it at the rate that the board acted on” is because of the implementation of resources like the PACT program.

This program covers tuition for eligible high school graduates who enroll at any community college in the state full-time, about 25% of the population, Barnes added.

But during Thursday’s board meeting, students, faculty and a few board members still raised concerns about the tuition hike, saying that since a large number of the students at the community colleges come from low-income or working-class families, this decision could bring on significant financial stressors.

“I’ve spoken to many fellow students about this proposal to increase tuition. This increase will prohibit them to continue their college education due to the financial disadvantages it will pose,” Jamie Czikowsky, a student at Tunxis Community College, said during the meeting. “Students that will have to choose between paying for their education, or putting food on the table, paying for child care, or other basic needs that the extra $224 had provided them … From my conversations with students, these hikes will directly result in more enrollment decline.”

Sara M. Berry, an adjunct faculty member at Manchester Community College, wrote a letter to the board opposing the tuition increase. She said that she knows the board “has a responsibility to balance the system’s books,” but she does not believe that doing it this way will help either the system or students in the long run.

Berry shared similar concerns as Czikowsky, explaining that the tuition hike “will present a larger barrier to enrollment and retention.”

“Our students live complicated lives, and many cannot take care of their other obligations while being a full-time student and be academically successful,” Berry wrote. “Still other needy students may have tried college years ago, not been successful, and come back to improve their lives. These students are also not eligible for PACT funding. These neediest students, ineligible for this program, are the ones who cannot afford a tuition increase.”

Richard Balducci, chairman of the Board of Regents finance committee, said most students still aren’t going to see any out of pocket costs even with the $224 increase, because 71% of the students who apply for financial aid at the colleges pay close to nothing for tuition and fees because of grants including PACT, Pell, Roberta Willis, or a combination and “another 10% have 75% of their costs paid for.”

In addition to the tuition increase, Balducci said, Pell grants are going up by about $400. He added that the “set-aside dollars,” a board policy that states they have to set aside 15% of the revenue that comes in through tuition to be used for financial aid, will also increase to 17%.

CSCU Board Chairman Matt Fleury also said during Thursday’s meeting that they are going to continue having conversations about how to allocate other sources of funding.

“It’s with significant misgivings that I would support this, but I think a reasoned understanding of the balance we’re trying to walk here, and also a wholehearted concurrence with the sense that we cannot continue to turn to students to solve these problems in such a significant measure,” Fleury said. “That includes advocacy for funding from other sources, and it includes a healthy conversation about how the funding we have from taxpayers and students is expended and a rigorous review of the operational administrative ways in which we organize ourselves to allocate those dollars throughout the system.”

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Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.