October 4, 2018

CSCU likely to seek boost in state aid, explores tuition policy options

Connecticut's public college and university system may need to seek additional state funding next year to maintain the programs it currently offers students, administrators warned Wednesday.

At the same meeting, administrators explored potential new tuition and fee policies in an effort to incentivize students to complete their degrees.

The preliminary finding by a committee of the Board of Regents for Higher Education that additional state aid will be needed came as the system braces for a likely continued loss of funding and the priorities of a new administration.

State funding for the Connecticut State College and University system, which includes the four state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College would need to grow by $41 million next year — and by another $30 million in the 2020-21 school year, just to maintain current programs. And that projection hinges on the board ordering another two-year package of tuition hikes, matching the increases imposed this school year and last.

The finance and infrastructure committee unanimously endorsed requesting the money from the state when it met Wednesday. The Office of Policy and Management requires all state agencies to submit their biennium proposals in October.

Mark Ojakian, president of the CSCU Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, said consistent cuts to the system have forced officials to trim positions despite efforts to reduce operating costs. He described the request for further additional funding as addressing "extremely pressing needs that we have in the system and for our institutions."

Officials will request that funding to introduce programing to help community college students develop an academic plan early in their college experience and receive support to keep them on track and graduate. It would also go toward providing both community college and state university students with more professional and academic advisors.

The finance committee also introduced a number of tuition and policy options for the next two fiscal years, while noting officials will only vote on a final proposal next spring. This is the beginning of a discussion that will take months.

Some of those options include freezing current tuition and fee rates for a two or four-year period, holding those rates flat for full-time students (for three years at the colleges and five years at the universities), exploring free education for qualifying students, and offering graduates a rebate on a portion of the total cost of their education.

Ojakian said the options are only a sample of what the regents may consider.

"I thought it was important to start a conversation about what should our tuition policy be into the future as opposed to more of an ad hoc approach that we had in the past," Ojakian said.

The board voted last year to adopt a tuition and fee schedule that includes a 4 percent increase at each of the four state universities, a 2.5 percent hike at the 12 community colleges, and 4 percent increase at Charter Oak State College this fiscal year.

The committee said a tuition and fee rate freeze would create an estimated $15.7 million gap in fiscal year 2020 and a $31.9 million gap the next fiscal year, all while assuming flat enrollment during that time despite a declining trend.

The CSCU president said the board will hopefully endorse a white paper with a more refined set of options in November, which will head to the new governor, his administration, and legislative leaders. Ojakian said he wants to pursue options that incentivize students to stay in school and complete their degrees in a timely fashion.

"I want to be more proactive about having a tuition policy that is not predicated just on expenses but is predicated on our ability to ensure student success and continue to make our institutions affordable and accessible," Ojakian said.

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