CSCU likely to ex­plore new tu­ition, fee poli­cies

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Clarice Sil­ber

Of­fi­cials at the state’s largest pub­lic col­lege sys­tem are ex­plor­ing new tu­ition and fee poli­cies aimed at in­cen­tiviz­ing stu­dents to com­plete their de­grees — how­ever, fis­cal con­straints will likely sti­fle these costly ideas.

The Board of Re­gents — which over­sees the state’s dozen com­mu­nity col­leges, four re­gional Con­necti­cut State Uni­ver­si­ties, and on­line Char­ter Oak State Col­lege — al­ready face a mas­sive deficit next year just to main­tain the pro­grams it cur­rently of­fers stu­dents.

On Wed­nes­day, mem­bers of the Re­gents’ fi­nance com­mit­tee agreed that their cur­rent tra­jec­tory has them need­ing to ei­ther sig­nif­i­cantly cut spend­ing or land ad­di­tional state aid. How­ever, the state is fac­ing deficits of its own and the sys­tem will likely need to brace for a con­tin­ued loss of fund­ing and the pri­or­i­ties of a new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

State fund­ing for the 84,000- stu­dent sys­tem would need to grow by $ 41 mil­lion next year — and by an­other $ 30 mil­lion in the 2020- 21 school year — to main­tain cur­rent pro­grams and pro­vide new pro­gram­ming and ad­vi­sors. 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 ad­di­tional “ex­pan­sion op­tion” 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 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 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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