When the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition by up to 28 percent over the next four years, their rationale was that the money would be used exclusively to hire 290 new professors.
While a number of media outlets simply took UConn’s rationale as “gospel”, first CTNewsjunkie and now the CT Mirror have written stories that reveal the issue is far more complex.
As I pointed out in my recent commentary piece entitled “Shared Sacrifice Strikes Again: No additional new taxes – oh except for you over there…”, I believe these latest tuition increases are a direct result of the massive and unprecedented cuts that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly included in this year’s biennial state budget.
The response from the Malloy Administration came when Ben Barnes, Malloy’s state budget director told the CT Mirror that the cuts at UConn “were comparable to what the rest of state government took.”
This statement is blatantly false.
In fact, there were a number of government programs that were not cut at all (such as municipal aid), with others that only received minor cuts and even a few programs that received increased state funding.
UConn’s new President Susan Herbst points out that those budget constraints over the last few decades have meant student-to-teacher ratios have increased to the point where they are more than 18-to-1. As a result, class sizes have gotten bigger and more and more students have been unable to sign up for the classes they need to graduate.
At the UConn Board of Trustees meeting and in interviews with the media, Herbst pledged that all the new money would be used to hire additional faculty.
I don’t doubt President Herbst’s sincerity. I’m just not sure she has been properly briefed about the dimension of the fiscal problem facing the University.
As an aside, the four years of tuition increases approved by the Board of Trustees would bring in between $50 to $65 million dollars when fully implemented. As UConn documents reveal, that amount of money would cover about 75 to 80% of the funds needed to hire 290 new professors. So even with the new tuition dollars UConn would still need to come up with additional funds to fulfill her promise.
However, the problem facing UConn is much bigger than that.
As I pointed out in my commentary piece, the state of Connecticut hit UConn with a $45 million cut in funding. Click to see the CTMirror article for an excellent explanation surrounding that number.
While a small portion of that amount will be covered by the employee wage freeze and limitations on longevity payments, UConn will need to come up with a significant amount of money just to maintain existing staffing and core programs. (Readers may recall that the SEBAC agreement prohibits any layoffs of state employees; so even if UConn wanted to lay off hundreds of employees to make up for the shortfall they would be unable to do so.)
As reporters have asked UConn to explain why the institution did not need any of the additional tuition revenues to maintain services, they pointed to the recent report provided by the national consulting firm of McKinsey & Co.
The report, which cost UConn $3.7 million, identified a number of potential cuts and new sources of revenue for the University.
The consultant claimed that when fully implemented, UConn could save or generate a combined amount of over $100 million a year.
The problem is that it would take many years to fully implement some of the recommendations and others are so controversial that it is very unlikely that the University community would support moving forward with them.
In the short-term, the consultants’ recommendations included increasing parking fees and hiking the cost of student housing while raising the ticket prices for athletic events. Making more use of summer programs and dramatically increasing private fundraising were also recommended. (UConn is already engaged in expanded fundraising but that money is supposed to be dedicated to building up the University’s endowment).
Another area of savings would come from “streamlining the procurement process.”
For example, according to the report, UConn spends 14 to 25 percent more for chairs than the University in Idaho and the consultants found that UConn had purchased “31 different types of non-stackable chairs which vary significantly in price.”
The consultants also pointed out that “over 50% of Dell laptops are upgraded beyond the base recommended specification even though only 10% of Dell computers are used for research purposes.”
Some recommendations make sense and can certainly save money, while others are, let’s say, a bit more unlikely, such as closing down smaller academic programs that don’t attract enough students.
Even if everything in the report was adopted, the University would save up to $8 million this year and $26 million or more next year. That would leave UConn almost $60 million short of what it will need over the next 18 months.
Some of that shortfall can certainly be made up by utilizing reserves but it is simply impossible for UConn to balance its budget without bringing in more tuition dollars to pay for existing activities.
State Representative Roberta Willis, the leader on higher education issues in the Connecticut House of Representatives stated the case very clearly when she told the CT Mirror. ”There’s definitely a cost-shift going on, and it’s the type that hits middle class families the most.”
And on the Republican side of the aisle, State Representative Pamela Sawyer, one of UConn’s strongest Republican supporters, said “UConn has needs that have been shortchanged by the state and that’s why they need to raise the money to fill out their (academic) programs.”
To date, UConn maintains that the funds generated by this tuition increase will not be used to help deal with the immediate budget crisis but they have failed to fully explain how they would achieve such a feat.
As mentioned previously, the proposal to add 290 faculty was due to the student to faculty ratio now exceeding a ratio of 18-to-1.
In 2004 UConn announced a similar initiative to hire more faculty because the student to teacher ratio was 18-to-1. UConn pointed out that immediate action was needed because the average student to teacher ratio at peer institutions was 15-to-1. UConn’s plan promised to bring the ratio down to 16-to-1.
Now, seven years later, UConn’s student to faculty ratio is….. 18-to-1.