Students commuting to Connecticut's four smaller state universities — Central, Eastern, Southern and Western — will pay an average of 6.3 percent more in tuition and fees next year, the system's board of trustees decided Thursday. Residential students will pay an average of 5.6 percent more.
The increases mean commuters will pay an extra $477 on average; residential students, an extra $950.
The trustees' vote to raise tuition and fees came even as they sought to justify their recent decision to pay about $80,000 to the university system's chancellor, David Carter, for not retiring under last summer's retirement incentive program. Questions arose in recent days as word spread of the plan to reward Carter — who was paid $398,510 in 2008, according to the comptroller's office — while hard-pressed students have to pay more.
Two board members, including a student trustee, dissented Thursday as the panel approved the tuition increase.
In a statement, the board noted that the decision came after more than 18 months of cost reductions and budget-cutting at the four universities.
"The decision to raise tuition was made very reluctantly, and only after other avenues were thoroughly explored and actions taken," Karl J. Krapek, chairman of the board of trustees said in a statement released by the board.
"Our priority is always to preserve the quality of our academic programs and student services, which is why we continue to take effective steps to reduce expenses at each of our universities," he said.
Following the board meeting, Krapek said, "We are the best bargain in New England if we compare tuition and fees." He said that even if the board had increased tuition and fees by 10 percent, "We would still be the best bargain."
In April, the board approved an increase for commuters for the current academic year of 5.4 percent, slightly below Thursday's increase, and below the national average for the current academic year of 6.5 percent. (The vast majority of CSU students are commuters.)
According to a board statement, the increase approved Thursday is expected to be below the national average increase for the next academic year.
With the hike in place next year, students who commute to one of the four state universities will pay, on average, $8,043; those living on campus, $17,997.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell was not pleased with the increases.
"I am deeply disappointed at CSU's decision to raise tuition at this point in time," Rell said in a statement. "CSU is facing difficult fiscal challenges like the rest of state government, but I am not convinced that university administrators have looked deep enough and hard enough for savings.
"The economic climate continues to put great stress on every level of our society. Families struggle with their monthly bills and the last thing they need is a higher tuition bill on top of that. Institutions of higher learning are not exempt from making these same tough choices, but raising tuition is not the answer."
A release issued by the board noted the decrease in state funding for the university system; state funds accounted for 48 percent of operating expenses a decade ago and now account for about 40 percent. Also with the current economic downturn, the board said, the state universities were required to transfer $1 million in student funds to the state in the current fiscal year, and will be required to transfer $3 million in the next fiscal year.
In addition, the release said, a reduction in state funding of more than $750,000 has been made in the current fiscal year, and is anticipated next year.
The University of Connecticut is governed by a separate board of trustees, which has not yet decided whether to increase tuition next year. That board is expected consider the matter at its January meeting.
Standing out against that negative economic backdrop was the extra $80,000 or so to be spent on Carter's "retention award." The trustees' executive committee voted without fanfare Oct. 1 to pay Carter that sum in three annual, partial installments starting with the fiscal year beginning next July 1.
But now that the award has been questioned, the trustees apparently are reconsidering when — and even whether — Carter will get the money.
In an e-mail sent this week to university staff members, trustees chairman Krapek said that "in recent days there have been questions raised that I would like to address." He said that "we were exceptionally pleased and relieved" that Carter "elected not to take the Retirement Incentive Plan."
He said that "given the challenges facing the university system as a result of the state's ongoing fiscal situation, retaining an experienced, respected and extraordinarily knowledgeable leader at the helm is in the best interest of our students and our state."
The award was in recognition of "Chancellor Carter's unwavering loyalty to the system," and was "to be carried out when we experienced better financial times ahead," Krapek said, but now "whether or not the board will be able to follow through on that plan will depend upon the financial circumstances facing the system and the state."
Carter hasn't gotten any of the money yet, and "it should be noted that in fiscal year 2009, the university presidents and chancellor did not receive performance-based increases, by decision of the board," Krapek added.
During the board's meeting Thursday, there was some discussion about whether to pass the increase. Kolby Williams, the student trustee who voted against it, said he wanted to delay the vote to give him more time to discuss it with students.
Peter M. Rosa, the other trustee who voted against the increases, said he was concerned about student access if tuition increases.
However, Angelo Messina, chair of the board's finance committee, said that if the board delayed, the financial situation might worsen. Messina later explained, "If we waited to, let's say February, it may be that our situation in February is even worse than what it is today, and the increase that we would have to ask of the students would then have to be even higher than today. ... It's not in the students' benefit to wait."
Several students interviewed about the tuition and fee hikes said they preferred them to cutbacks to programs and services.
Willie Garcia, a junior and president of the student government at Southern Connecticut State University, said: "We understand that the increase is really going to help keep the programs running. ... At the same time: Are the students happy? No. No students are going to be happy with an increase."
He doesn't believe the increase will prevent any students from coming to the university, but "it just makes it a little tougher."
Mita Lad, student government president at Eastern Connecticut State University, said an e-mail, "we know that the CSU system tries its hardest to keep increases low. Given the current state of the economy, this increase was to be expected and this one is very manageable compared to increases at other state universities across the nation may be facing."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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