State Colleges Hike Tuition 5% in Face of $140 Million Deficit


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Tuition at state universities and community colleges will increase by 5 percent next year amid a large budget shortfall after the loss of federal COVID funds. 

Tuition and fees will increase by $610 annually for university students and $246 for community college students, raising the total cost of attendance to just over $5,200 for community college students and about $28,000 for university students who live on campus. On-campus university students will see an additional increase of $380 for food and board. 

The price hike aims to cover $106 million of a $140 million deficit expected in 2025, resulting from a combination of increased benefit costs, lower enrollment and the loss of federal funds. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Blanchard told the Finance Committee earlier this month that the schools needed to generate $30 million in revenues in 2025, two-thirds of which were expected to come from increases to tuition. 

Blanchard said the other option — cutting $20 million from the budget — would mean cuts to programs, layoffs, or otherwise put the system in “a precarious position.” 

For many students, Blanchard noted, the tuition or fee increases would be offset by federal, state or institutional aid. But Blanchard also said students at the four universities receive less aid than students at UConn, leaving them further in debt. 

“We’d love to provide more institutional aid to our students. And I’ve talked to various regents about how we can do that within our budget — by shifting resources from other expenditures to institutional aid. But that becomes very difficult as the state reduces our support.” 

The Board of Regents approved the increase on Thursday, despite testimony from multiple students asserting that the extra costs would make it difficult to continue attending school while sustaining themselves financially. 

Several students said the increases would be particularly hard on non-traditional students. Hyrum Merkley, a student at Three Rivers Community College who previously attended college in Europe, said he didn’t have access to Pell Grants or the PACT program, and had to pay out of pocket for tuition.

Lydia Sekscenski, a 33-year-old senior at Southern Connecticut State University, said she spent her 20s working in retail and restaurants, but felt she could be doing something more. After she came to Southern, she said, she found a major that was “personally meaningful” and was able to secure an internship with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. She called her experience at Southern “life-affirming.” But Sekscenski said the tuition increases could stop older students from seeking out higher education. 

“The number of non-traditional students like me is trending upward. Most of them don’t have families paying their tuition or supporting them financially. I don’t. We’re doing it all ourselves,” she said. “I must show up to class, do all my assignments, while paying my share of the rent and utilities. I have a roommate, since there’s not a single apartment in the state I can afford on my own. I’m taking out student loans to cover the tuition costs.” 

Sam King, a sociology major at Central Connecticut State University, said the school’s affordability was “a godsend,” but that he’s seen tuition costs soar and programs cut in recent years. 

“I’m unsure if I’m going to be able to afford to finish my education in my last few semesters as money becomes tighter and tighter. And this is not an individual experience I’ve had, as many people I consider friends and otherwise share the same fear in the upcoming academic year,” he said. 

Rosamond Quinones, a student at Capitol Community College and a Job Corps fellow, said she had finished learning a trade this year and was ready to go to college. But she explained she could end up homelessness, as her residence in the Job Corps program, which provides housing, will only last until the end of the next semester.

“I have been waiting since 2020 for this opportunity, and because of my low-income circumstance, increasing tuition will threaten my attendance at college,” Quinones said. 

She said her circumstances — living with three other women and not being able to easily find a space to study — recently led her to make a major life decision.

“Four weeks ago, I had to quit my job and lose my only source of income because I had to prioritize my time finishing my semester strong,” she said. “Overall, the cutting of resources for students, and limited space and strain on faculty and staff is not encouraging for me to continue. It is wrong. And due to the increasing tuition, I may have to pick survival over the dream of finishing my major.” 

Chancellor Terrence Cheng said the school administration did not want to increase tuition and would continue to lobby the state Legislature for further funding. 

“We are acutely aware that a 5 percent increase will add burden to our students, directly to our students, their ability to pay, their ability to balance life, work and family obligations, especially for our nontraditional students. We recognize this,” Cheng said. 

Dr. David Blitz, vice chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the board, asked the Board of Regents to put aside a one-time amount of $10 million from Connecticut State Community College’s reserves and $10 million from the System Office, rather than raising tuition. 

But several board members argued against the idea. Regent Jim McCarthy argued that using the reserves could set the universities up for steeper tuition hikes in later years. 

“Cash reserves are another form of one-time cash. Once used, it’s gone. The appropriate use of cash reserves is to use it as a supplement to more fundamental changes on either side of a ledger on a budget,” regent Richard Wright added. “So after you’ve solved your structural deficit, then and only then, should you use cash reserves to help close whatever gaps you have between your revenues and expenditures.” 

Carla Galaise, the student member of the Board of Regents, said she was torn about how to vote, knowing that it would negatively impact people struggling with food insecurity and single parents. Galaise noted Connecticut has one of the highest costs of living in the country. 

“There are many reasons students want me to vote no. We shouldn’t have to pay for poorly executed decisions made by our predecessors. We shouldn’t have to pay to keep our already bare-boned programs functioning,” she said. 

At the same time, Galaise acknowledged, a $20 million budget cut would mean a loss of programs and services, and might convince potential students not to pursue higher education or to leave for other affordable states.

Regent Erin Stewart, mayor of New Britain and the lone vote against the tuition increases, said she believed the colleges and universities shouldn’t be putting more strain on the students until they had their finances in order. 

“I kind of equate this to raising taxes,” Stewart said. “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 just don’t think that we’re there yet.” 

Regent Elease Wright asked about the possibility of increasing aid through university foundations, and Blanchard suggested raising revenue using sources like leasing real estate or licensing their brands for the university sports teams. 

Colena Sesanker, chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee, said the tuition hikes were the inevitable result of the university system’s failure to achieve the savings promised with the proposal of a single state community college, which she called “horribly ill-conceived.” 

“This board has overseen a process that created a vehicle for disinvestment in these students,” Sesanker said. “When we talk about things like structural injustice, this is a very boring thing that happens drip by drip in polite boardrooms. I have happened to have a front row seat in this process. And this is just one more step to its culmination.”

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.