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December 15, 2023

CSCU Board of Regents OKs 5% tuition hike despite opposition

4CS / FACEBOOK The 4Cs union live-streamed the Board of Regents meeting Dec. 14, 2023.

After months of resistance from students and faculty, the Board of Regents voted Thursday to raise tuition by 5% at the state’s regional universities and community colleges.

The tuition hikes come after the state budget left the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system facing a steep $140 million shortfall as pandemic relief funds and additional state funding during the last couple of years expire.

“We are acutely aware that a 5% increase will add burden to our students directly and our students’ ability to pay and their ability to balance work, life and family obligations,” said Chancellor Terrence Cheng at the board meeting. “We will continue to lobby state leaders intently and consistently for the funding we need to address the system shortfall and hopefully mitigate any tuition fee.”

The tuition increase will go into effect for the fall 2024 semester. 

Representatives of the schools said the increase is unfair.

“This is the wrong move for our system and our students. While we are facing financial challenges, it is unethical to place the burden on our students. The students we serve are disproportionately immigrants, working class and diverse,” said a joint statement from Louise Blakeny Williams, president of the CSU-AAUP union, and Seth Freeman, president of the 4Cs union. “They come from the most under-resourced K-12 districts in the state. They are already working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Now, we are asking them and their families to pay even more for a system that is simultaneously cutting and gutting our institutions. The only logical outcome we expect to see from this decision is lower enrollment and retention rates.”

The tuition hike would equate to an additional $305 a semester at the regional universities, bringing a full-time, in-state, commuter undergraduate student’s annual tuition cost to around $13,435. The average cost for students who live on campus would be near or over $28,000. The hike would also mean community college students would have to foot an extra $123 a semester, raising their annual tuition and fees from around $4,972 to $5,218.

In November, leadership from the four regional universities, online Charter Oak State College and CT State Community College presented a deficit mitigation plan to the board that expects to cut personnel costs by more than $35 million without layoffs, while also counting on higher-than-anticipated enrollment to bolster tuition or other fees at several schools. 

“Last month, this room was full of managers … celebrating the disgusting and pathetic deficit mitigation plan. Last month, one man, one after another, took themselves to the podium, showing who could cut the most — who could sacrifice their workforce the most,” said Freeman, whose union represents the community colleges. “But today, this is an even uglier sacrifice. Today is even more clear and personal. In the blood ritual today, you draw the blood and sacrifice our students directly. … Today you draw blood from our students who serve racialized austerity. Today you draw blood from our working class Black and brown students.” 

Prior to the vote, a dozen students who are enrolled in the CSCU system pleaded against the hikes, calling the increase in tuition costs “dangerous,” “detrimental” and “shameful.”

“I’m scared for my peers and generations to come. I’m scared that they will never experience the freedom, curiosity and exploration as I did at my institution. At CCSU, I learned how to be a critical and free thinker, and to see the opportunity be stripped from potential students is disturbing,” said Niya Blizzard-Ireland, a senior sociology major. “We are going to make Connecticut a better place for all, but how could we possibly do that if we are being forced to pay more for less? … How can you expect us to do that with the little support that we have being taken away from us? These actions will not be forgotten. … We will not forget that there was once an opportunity for us to be fought for, and no one did.”

“I’ve been waiting since 2020 for this opportunity [to go to college], and because of my low-income circumstances, increasing tuition will threaten my attendance at college. I know I’m not an isolated event. There will be hundreds and thousands like me in Hartford alone,” said Rosimar Quinones, a sociology major at Capital Community College. 

The measure to increase tuition comes after other recent hikes, including last summer when the Board of Regents raised the price of community college tuition and fees by 5.7% from the year prior, and in October 2022 when the average cost of in-state students living on campus at the regional universities rose by 3%.

“Gateway [Community College in New Haven] is not just an institution for me and my student body, it’s my home,” said Stephanie DeLeon, a community college student. “As a first-generation immigrant student here in America, I’ve witnessed the transformative powers that community colleges in general have done for us. … Community colleges are our last chance of hope for a lot of us due to financial burdens that we’re forced to sacrifice our dreams for.”

Before the vote, board members voiced their acknowledgement of the impact tuition hikes will have on low-income students but also said that without the hike, there would be more cuts to programs and services.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who serves as a board member, voted against the hikes.

“I understand the financial need. I just have a very strong feeling that it shouldn’t be done on the backs of the students until we have our stuff in order,” Stewart said. “I equate this to raising taxes, … [and] you raise taxes when there’s no other option of things to cut or ways to raise revenue. You put it on people at the very end, and I don’t think we’re there yet.”

As proposed in the agenda, tuition at Charter Oak State is expected to remain flat “primarily due to the online price point of various competitors.” At Central Connecticut State University, tuition and fees are expected to increase by $590 for commuter students and $966 for residential students.

Eastern Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University all will see a 4.8% increase for commuter students, ranging from a $606 to $636 increase. Residential students at those three regional universities can expect to see increase from 3.1% to 4.1%, ranging from an additional $848 to $1,134 on their college bills. 

Staff writer Keith Phaneuf contributed to this report.

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