Facing a budget deficit next year, the Board of Regents is raising tuition for the newly consolidated Connecticut State Community College system and requiring all schools in its system to submit mitigation plans.
The board approved both steps after a contentious back-and-forth between the administration and faculty and students over the direction of the Connecticut State College and University system, which faces massive budget shortfalls in the coming years.
“This is not a two-year biennium budget problem,” CSCU Chancellor Terrence Cheng said during Wednesday’s meeting. “The demographics of our state and the entire New England/Northeast region show only decline in traditional college-aged students for the next two decades.”
The regents voted to raise tuition and fees by 5% next year for CT State — the state’s 12 community colleges will fall under that name starting Saturday — and 3% for Charter Oak State College. That board in October approved a similar 3% tuition and fee hike for the four state universities.
Even with the tuition hike and some cost saving measures, the CSCU system’s $1.2-billion budget still faces a $13.7-million shortfall. That number balloons to $147 million in fiscal year 2025.
As part of the budget vote Wednesday, the board required each of the universities and colleges to submit deficit mitigation plans by Nov. 1.
Students and faculty criticized the moves, saying the rise in tuition will just accelerate the ongoing drop in enrollment within the CSCU system. According to numbers from the state Office of Policy and Management, enrollment across the system has dropped by 30% since 2013.
Opponents also raised concerns about the administration’s plan to right the ship.
Hazel Hill, a student at Tunxis Community College, said she hasn’t been able to get clear guidance from advisors about what classes she needs to take in order to graduate this fall.
“This has been overwhelming and brought on a lot of uncertainty in various areas,” she said in written testimony read by board member and Central Connecticut State University Professor David Blitz.
Staffing at the college system is relatively even with last year for now, but the system has 68 fewer full-time and 1,754 fewer faculty positions than it did in 2019.
That’s compared with a drop of 102 full-time and 96 part-time positions across the four state universities over the same period.
On top of classes, Hill expressed concern that the cuts impact needed services, including staffing for on-campus food pantries and libraries.
Faculty, meanwhile, blamed Cheng for not fighting harder for more state funding. Professor Union Vice President John O’Connor noted Cheng blasted Gov. Ned Lamont after his initial budget proposal earlier this spring, but was not critical of the state’s final spending plan.
“There should be no moves toward the governor and his OPM cronies,” he said. “We either believe in our students, faculty and institutions or don’t.”
Cheng defended his efforts, noting the $632.5 million in total state aid is roughly $160 million more than Lamont’s initial proposal.
“We fought hard, we did the best we could,” he said after the public comment portion of the meeting. “If it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t good enough. We’ll learn from that and we’ll keep pushing.”
Lamont also defended the budget, noting its the largest figure the state has given to the CSCU system and that it expanded free community college eligibility.
“I think Terence and the Board of Regents is going to figure out how to manage there,” he said Wednesday.
Two regents, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Ari Santiago, opposed the budget because they wanted more information on how the administration would get the spending plan into balance.
Some faculty, meanwhile, expressed concern the spending plan doesn’t do anything to address looming budgets in the coming years. The shortfall is projected to grow to $210 million in fiscal year 2026.
Faculty said the regents should focus on strategies that help student retention.
“If we keep students in school and graduating, we can, in fact, increase revenue, even with a decline in enrollment,” said CCSU professor and union President Lois Williams.
Cheng promised that the board would work with faculty and students on addressing long-term budget issues, a pledge he repeated in a message to students and faculty in a message after the meeting.
“(School presidents) will approach this process with open ears and open minds, but with the understanding that we must do everything in our power to ensure the long-term viability of our colleges and universities,” he said in the message.
Cheng also pushed back against his critics, though, accusing them during the meeting of taking hardline stances. He said they would also need to be willing to compromise if they want to have a say on future plans.