Courtesy of MCC

Thousands of Connecticut community college students got some good news Thursday – there won’t be another tuition and fee hike in their immediate future.

The Board of Regents’ finance panel was slated to act on a plan that would have raised costs for community college students who take more than 12 credit hours, to help balance the state college system’s budget.

Currently, community college students who pay full-time tuition can take up to 18 credit hours. A proposal that the regents’ finance panel is considering would charge students $150 in tuition and $74 in mandatory fees for each credit they take over 12. A student who took 18 credit hours would be charged an extra $1,344 over the current cost of $2,084 a semester, a 64.5 percent increase.

But the finance panel’s chairman, Richard J. Balducci, said: “We need more time to make this decision. We are going to need input from everyone. We are looking forward to legislators’ comment. We want parent and student involvement, also.”

Balducci threw out some more good news for students, too, when he added that even if the Board of Regents eventually moves ahead with a plan to charge students extra for every credit they take over a specified number, “It would take time to implement.’’

If the state went ahead with such a plan, Balducci said, “I don’t see it happening before the fall of 2017 semester at the earliest.’’

There were 17,073 community college students who took more than 12 credits a semester last year, about one of every six community college students. If the colleges had charged for credit hours in excess of 12, the proposal estimates, the colleges would have collected $8.7 million in tuition revenue.

If Connecticut went to a system of charging per credit it would put the state in line with other New England states, such as Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Board of Regents finance panel members pointed out.

Finance panel member Merle W. Harris said she was glad a decision on raising tuition and fees was being put off – for now.

“I really worry about the students who pay for their own education,’’ Harris said. “There is not enough time to raise the additional money necessary to pay.”

“We haven’t done our job,’’ continued Harris. “We need more time.’’

Jack Kramer photo

Erika Steiner, chief financial officer for the Board of Regents, told Harris and other finance panel members, “We agree that we are rushing this too much. A proposal to be voted on next February or March is a better time frame.’’

While both Steiner and Balducci said more time needed to be taken to study whether and how to raise community college fees, both also said there’s a financial reality that can’t be overlooked.

“Year after year we have done cost cutting,’’ Steiner said. “We’ve taken advantage of attrition, also. But we are at a point where those trimming of costs won’t be enough.”

“There is no silver bullet,’’ she added.

Jack Kramer photo

On the other hand it’s easy to say “don’t raise costs,” Balducci said. “But we need suggestions, from everyone. And shutting down a cafeteria at lunch time won’t fix this. The problem is much bigger than that.’’

The finance panel, in a joint statement, said the per credit charge was proposed as they consider all revenue options.

“State funding of the community colleges continues to be negatively impacted by the state’s fiscal position, and we understand the next biennium will provide even greater challenges,’’ the statement continued. “In addition, there are numerous fixed costs that the system must also fund internally, including collective bargaining requirements, facilities costs, and unfunded state mandates which limit our cost cutting options.’’

Even though the finance panel held off on tuition and fee hikes, it did vote unanimously to end student health insurance at the four regional state universities.

Steiner and finance panel members said that many students would qualify for Medicaid or would be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Last year, one in 10 students at the state schools enrolled in the student health plan at an average cost to them of nearly $3,000 a year.

Connecticut State University President Mark Ojakian backed the vote.

“While the current plan offers generous benefits, it is expensive and can be a barrier to access for some of our students, particularly those who are eligible for no-cost Medicaid coverage, or subsidized private coverage,” Ojakian said. “We are working with several partners to educate students and help them make decisions about what plan is right for them.”

The full Board of Regents will vote on the proposal at their next meeting on Oct. 20.