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Calling his recently announced higher education investments a good first step, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday he’s committed to additional funding increases even as he nears the end of his current term as governor.

During a Wednesday press conference at Manchester Community College, Malloy touted new higher education funding included in his budget proposal. The spending plan, called Transform CSCU 2020, proposes to send an additional $135 million to the state’s public college and university system. He called the new funding “not a bad start.”

“This is only a down payment, I’ve said it to members of the Regents Board. As this plan becomes further identified, there will in fact be increased investments in this system. That’s why this is really a celebration . . . of what is to come in the future,” he said.

But Malloy is in the final year of his first term as governor and insists he has not decided whether he will seek re-election this November. The new spending on higher education programs he has proposed are not designed to repeat in future budgets. He said he hopes whoever is elected governor shares his plan to invest in higher education.

“I’m making a personal commitment and I hope future governors will make a personal commitment to make sure that this program continues,” he said. “I want to be very clear, this is just the beginning of the investments we need to make in this system.”

Malloy wants lawmakers to pass a number of initiatives designed to increase enrollment at the state’s public higher education institutions and boost graduation rates.

One proposal is aimed at the more than 113,000 former college students who enrolled at a public school but never graduated. Malloy said there likely are many more students who enrolled at private schools but did not graduate. The initiative offers up to three free courses to returning students who would be eligible for one free course for every course they pay to enroll in.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Sen. Steve Cassano, co-chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, called it a “buy one get one free” deal.

“What an idea, tremendous. I’ve already talked to students who have been out. They will come back,” he said.

Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors, the union representing faculty at the state’s public universities, issued a statement Wednesday generally supporting Malloy’s plan but faulting it for not including additional funding to hire staff to accommodate an increase in the student population.

An influx of students who have been away from college for more than a year likely will require additional support to complete their degree programs, according to the union.

“Unfortunately, this plan does not provide funding for additional faculty and other personnel to serve not only an increased student population, but a student population with increased needs,” the statement said.

During the press conference the governor was asked whether the funding in the plan would eliminate the need for future tuition increases at the state’s public schools. Malloy did not commit to a tuition freeze but said he has discussed the issue of college affordability with members of the state’s Board of Regents of Higher Education and their president, Gregory W. Gray.

“I’m convinced that they’ll come up with the least amount of increases as possible. I can’t predict whether that will be zero but I can assure you that we have put some money into this program to make sure they build a system that is predictable for students . . . and we’re in a position to hold it to a minimum,” he said. “We’re working on that.”

Like Malloy, Gray called the proposal “a solid first step.” He called college affordability one of the primary principles of the plan “so that individuals in this state have access to our educational platform, either in our classrooms or online and individuals are able to afford our education and we will be totally accountable to the public for the money we have.”