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March 9, 2023

Tuition Trends: Colleges raise tuition amid economic pressures, affordability debate

PHOTO | Gary Lewis Bill Guerrero, vice president for finance and chief financial officer for the University of Bridgeport, where tuition will remain flat in the upcoming 2023-24 academic year.

When students at the state’s community colleges learned tuition hikes were a possibility, they marched in protest.

Outside Gateway Community College in New Haven, dozens of students and faculty in January demonstrated with signs proclaiming “Raise Grades, Not Tuition,” and “No tuition hike!”

PHOTO | Michelle Tuccitto Sullo
Gateway Community College in downtown New Haven.

On campus in March, Dontae Williams of New Haven, who is studying social work and psychology at Gateway, said any increase would negatively impact students.

“I think they should keep it the way it is,” Williams said.

Latoya McCrorey of Bristol, who attends Tunxis Community College in Farmington, said via email that any tuition increase would make it harder for students to get an education and better-paying job. She is a parent juggling two jobs.

“It’s very unfair to students who are trying to make a living,” she said.

Higher education in New Haven, across Connecticut and nationwide is getting more expensive for students looking to boost their careers and earning potential.

Most area colleges and universities are raising tuition for the upcoming 2023-24 academic year, or are contemplating doing so, pointing to pressures from an inflationary environment. Higher costs will mean many students graduate with more debt — an issue that has been part of the national conversation with President Biden’s proposal to forgive some student loans.

Seth Freeman, a professor at Capital Community College in Hartford and union president with The 4Cs SEIU 1973, said students, faculty and staff have been involved in demonstrations and a petition voicing opposition to tuition increases.

“Despite community colleges being the most affordable option, the costs of tuition still are a barrier for students to attend college, and raising tuition only raises that barrier,” he said.

In October, the Board of Regents approved a 3% increase in tuition and fee rates next academic year for the state’s four public universities.

That includes Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, along with Central, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities. At Southern, annual undergraduate tuition and fees will go up from $12,438 this year to $12,828 in 2023-24.

The board delayed taking any action on tuition for state community colleges and Charter Oak State College, to see what funding can be obtained from the legislature.

More than 73% of the community college system’s budget comes from state appropriations, rather than tuition or fees, according to Ann Harrison, marketing and communications chief of staff for Connecticut State Community College.

As a result, any tuition change depends on state funding, Harrison said.

“We are advocating to the legislature to increase state funding so we don’t have to raise tuition,” Harrison said. “We put forth a proposal, and if we are made whole on our request, we won’t have to raise tuition.”

The current legislative session goes into early June. Typically, the community college system sets tuition around March or April, but Harrison said it could be later this year as it awaits the legislature’s decision.

Students at the state’s community colleges, which will soon be merging into one entity, currently pay $4,700 in annual tuition to attend full time.

Even if there is a tuition increase, Harrison noted community colleges remain the most affordable higher education option in the state, and many students are eligible for grants and other financial assistance. Harrison also said that community college enrollment is up 4%, after years of declines due to fewer people pursuing higher education.

Around the region

Several other New Haven-area colleges and universities have already decided to increase tuition for the upcoming school year. One is keeping tuition the same, while others are weighing their options.

University of Bridgeport campus.

In February, the University of Bridgeport announced there would be no undergraduate tuition increase for 2023-24. The nonprofit university’s board of trustees voted to keep tuition at its current $35,960.

UB noted that this is below the average cost of tuition for Connecticut’s public and private colleges and universities, which is $41,442, according to data analytics company Encoura.

It’s the third consecutive year the university, which recently reported a 30% increase in enrollment of first-year students, has kept tuition flat.

Bill Guerrero, UB’s vice president for finance and chief financial officer, said enrollment has been difficult for colleges and universities in general, and UB hopes keeping tuition flat will attract more students.

UB faces pressure to increase student headcount following its $32-million takeover by East Hartford-based Goodwin University. That deal, completed in 2021, came amid UB’s ongoing financial struggles that predated the pandemic.

A key factor in making that acquisition successful is Goodwin’s ability to help UB boost enrollment. The deal was financed by bank debt as well as a $7.5-million low-interest state loan.

Students choosing a college or university weigh factors such as price, financial aid, proximity to home, and whether academic programming matches their career goals, Guerrero noted. The pandemic also played a role in UB’s tuition decision.

“UB leadership, through COVID and after, has been very aware of the cost of attending college, and that’s the main reason for keeping the tuition rate flat,” Guerrero said. “We’re worried about students having access to higher education and it being affordable. The pandemic has a lot of people questioning the value of higher education.”

Asked if tuition will continue to remain flat in coming years, Guerrero said it’s hard to predict.

“We would love to,” Guerrero said. “We have inflation impacting personal lives too. We want to take care of our employees. We want UB to be a great place for students and staff. We try to balance all of those needs.”

Trending upward

For area colleges instituting increases, tuition is going up between 2.5% to 4%, representing approximately an additional $400 to $3,000 annually.

PHOTO | Courtesy Jack Devlin
Yale University’s campus.

Yale announced in February that tuition will be $64,700 for the 2023-2024 academic year, up from $62,250, approximately a 3.9% increase.

Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said aid will increase too.

“Yale’s need-based financial aid awards always increase in lockstep with any increases in the term bill,” Quinlan said.

Families of undergraduate students who can’t afford the full cost of attendance receive a Yale scholarship grant. Yale reported that approximately 3,500 undergraduates currently get financial aid from Yale, with an average grant of more than $63,000.

At the University of New Haven, tuition, plus a general student fee, will be up about 3.5% to $45,730 for 2023-24.

Greg Eichhorn, UNH’s vice president for enrollment and student success, said, “We are limiting our tuition increase to 3.5 percent, which is far below the rate of inflation we have all experienced. We continue to be committed to providing significant financial aid to support deserving students in pursuing their educational goals.”

At Post University, tuition will jump from $28,250 to $31,075 for the 2023-24 academic year for undergraduate main campus students, according to spokeswoman Joan Huwiler.

“Post has not implemented a price increase in seven years on its main campus, and during that time, the university has made significant investments in programming, facilities and the student experience,” Huwiler said.

At Fairfield University, tuition for 2023-24 will be $55,510, up from $53,630.

School spokeswoman Jennifer Anderson said, “Fairfield University remains committed to offering students an affordable, comprehensive educational experience, ever mindful of increasing costs of instruction and support services related to economic inflation.”

Anderson noted Fairfield has increased its student aid by 40% percent over the last five years.

At Quinnipiac University in Hamden, tuition, including student and technology fees, will be $53,090 in the new academic year, approximately a 2.5% increase.

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