Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, one of the four universities in the Board of Regents system. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

Tuition and fees at Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities will increase by an average of $291 per semester in the fall, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities governing board decided Thursday.

The change increases the average total yearly cost of tuition and fees from $11,625 to $12,207, according to the agenda for Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.

This decision follows the board’s February approval of a tuition increase at the state’s community colleges of $112 per year or $12 per credit for the 2022-23 academic year. Charter Oak State College will not be raising tuition.

“This board and the system has not increased tuition in the last few years, and that has been a very intentional non-action,” said CSCU President Terrence Cheng during Thursday’s meeting, adding that a lot of deliberation went into the decision.

Faculty and students expressed concerns and opposition to the increase.

Students shared in written statements the personal impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on them and their families during the last two years.

“Many people I know help pay for college with their own money. They may scrape together scholarships, or take out loans, but they work for most of the money, and they work hard,” one university student wrote anonymously. “I am going to school to learn about my passions and get a better job. At the moment I am just a college student who has access to low wage jobs. I can barely afford tuition as it is, raising the price is a burden on students and their families.”

This will be the system’s first tuition increase in the last three years. A year ago, the board voted to impose a system-wide freeze on tuition for the 2021-22 academic year.

The CSCU system is facing a $250 million shortfall between fiscal years 2022 and 2023 “largely driven by expected changes to … payroll and fringe benefit agreements … and COVID-19’s negative impact on enrollment,” according to a statement the system release about the increase on Thursday.

Richard Balducci, chairman of the board’s finance committee, said the CSCU system saw enrollment decline by roughly 24%, which has cost about $84 million in lost revenue.

“The sad truth of the situation is that raising tuition is not the only thing we need to do to get the system on a track to financial stability and sustainability,” Cheng said. “It is one piece, and frankly it is a small piece, and we do everything we can to keep that burden off of our backs. The reality is that there are a great deal of sunken costs across our system. The reality is that our student attrition and the drop in enrollment revenue is at a much higher pace than the attrition in our staff and in our faculty … so there are a variety of factors.”

Ben Barnes, CSCU’s chief financial officer, said it wasn’t clear yet how many students pay no tuition, but that the number would be lower than the 71% of community college students who apply for financial aid and pay close to nothing for tuition and fees because of grants including PACT, Pell, Roberta Willis or a combination.

Barnes added that students who are eligible for Pell grants at the universities, though, will not see an out-of-pocket difference with the increase in tuition and fees because “the increase in the Pell grant matches the proposed increase in tuition fees.”

Board policy states 15% of the revenue that comes in through tuition has to be set aside for financial aid. The board approved increasing those “set-aside dollars” from 15% to 17% at the community colleges last month, but Barnes said they elected not to change it for the universities since they anticipate that “set-aside” rate to continue to be “well above 15%” across the universities.

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.