CSCU President Terrence Chang spoke at the Legislative Office Building to advocate for more state funding. CT-N / CT-N

A group of students and a handful of presidents from the state college and universities system’s 17 schools gathered at the Legislative Office Building Monday morning to urge lawmakers to reconsider their proposed budget.

The budget the Appropriations Committee endorsed for the next two years falls $109 million short of the cost needed to maintain current services on campuses in the 2023-24 fiscal year and $225 million below in the 2024-25 year.

The possible shortfall could ultimately mean that university students would see tuition hikes upward of $1,000 in the next two years. Tuition increases for community college students may push the per-student average to $5,182 by 2024-25, which is $482 higher than the current level.

For students in the state’s college and universities system, a tuition hike may mean the need for a third or fourth job. 

For others, it may mean not being able to afford to continue their higher education studies. 

“Last year, I became a single father and I enrolled at Gateway [Community College]. Let me just say, Gateway changed my whole perspective on everything. This is my second opportunity for a better life, and for a better life for my daughter,” said Juan Carlos Munoz Polvo, adding that he never expected to go to college after he struggled as a student, then became a father straight out of high school.

Juan Carlos Munoz Polvo, a student at Gateway Community College, advocated for the CSCU system to receive more funding from state lawmakers. CTN / CTN

“I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m speaking for everybody,” Munoz Polvo continued. “[The budget will affect] all students, our first-time students, parents, single parents — everyone.”

Although tuition prices would increase, Terrence Chang, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said there would also be cuts to different types of student services, including mental health resources.

“Shutting down high-cost programs will be unavoidable,” Chang said. “Students will get far less and they will pay much more. … We will not only reduce access [to higher education], but it will crush the cities and towns where our campuses serve as pillars of their communities.”

In the fall, the CSCU system had over 64,500 students enrolled as part- or full-time. About 42% of its student body identifies as Black or Latino.

Chang added that 96% of CSCU students are from Connecticut, and 93% of its graduates remain in-state after graduation.

“We are the state’s primary engine for social mobility and workforce development,” Chang said. “Most of our students don’t come from the power zip codes of our state, but they are just as good as any, and we are proud to serve them. But, all of this will be at risk without adequate state funding.”

The proposed budget will also impact staffing as CSCU predicts the elimination of 3,500 jobs, both part-time and full-time.

Louise Williams, the president of the CSU-AAUP union, said some of the schools have already been struggling with its existing budget, including having to get rid of certain majors and keeping open positions unfilled. She said she can’t imagine any other cuts to their already struggling staff and faculty.

“A lot of faculty have left and they just don’t replace them, and so what that means is there’s less courses that are being offered, less advising that can be done by faculty,” Williams said. “Our faculty is really stretched to the limit because we’re taking up all of the extra work for the missing faculty members. … Our staff has already been cut to the bone.”

CSCU’s mitigation plan, prepared for the Board of Regents for Higher Education, includes laying off 13% of all full-time staff, or 654 over the biennial cycle — including 196 faculty.

“The loss of staff and resources under the BOR’s deficit mitigation plan is not only devastating but unconscionable for Connecticut at this moment in a time of billion-dollar surpluses. Our elected political leaders must not use Connecticut’s spending cap as an excuse for this disinvestment in our students, staff, and community,” said Gregg Crerar, president of SUOAF- AFSCME Local 2836, on behalf of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. “Students are tired. Staff and faculty are tired. Working families are tired. This budget would require that we dismantle the CSCU system in a way that can never be repaired.”

Job cuts also would affect staff in buildings and ground, public safety, clerical services, administration, financial aid offices and athletics, and while nearly one-third of the full-time layoffs involve faculty, the classroom impact would be much larger.

CSCU’s chief financial officer, Ben Barnes, told the CT Mirror the plan includes eliminating 2,916 or four out of every 10 part-time positions. And close to 70% of the system’s part-time workforce involves lecturers, other adjunct faculty, tutors and other academic support services, he added.

To date, the budget recommended by the Appropriations Committee is the most favorable budget scenario for the CSCU system on the table. Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan for regional state universities, community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College for the next two fiscal years is $82.5 million leaner.

In response to CSCU’s press conference Monday, Jeffrey Beckham, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said the state university and community college system’s “request for additional funding appears to be based on a belief that one-time federal funding to compensate for COVID-related costs should continue in perpetuity.”

He added that the system asking for an “ever-increasing operating subsidies is not sustainable.”

“Before looking to the taxpayers and students for additional funding, they must get their costs under control and in line with the current and expected future demand for students, which has decreased by 36% in the community colleges and 21% at the regional state universities,” Beckham said. “The students and taxpayers deserve value for their dollar, it is apparent that the CSCU administration needs to do more to assure that value.”

However, Williams disagreed, and said the state needs to invest in its higher education for the good of its economy.

“We have a really good university system, but we’re at a time where we could have an even better university system,” Williams said. “I just think the budget] is very bad short-term thinking. We have to think in the long term for not just kids — the students — but for the economy of the state. I mean, this is our workforce, our future workforce.”

Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, in a statement said they plan to look for ways to “bolster funding in a number of critical areas,” which would include “nonprofits, public schools, higher education, health care and child care workers, paraprofessionals and group homes.”

CT Mirror State Budget Reporter Keith Phaneuf contributed to this report.

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.