One more look at the new budget and higher education;
As the state of Connecticut finally steps up to deal with the financial crisis that threatens to derail it, one of the most serious challenges is to discern the difference between truth and political spin.
As we all know, all too often political spin has replaced virtually all honest dialogue about governmental issues at the Federal, state and local level. Here in Connecticut, the “political spin” began even before Governor Malloy delivered his Budget Address as the Governor and his team expertly created and maintained the mantra of “Shared Sacrifice”, along with a pledge to maintain funding for municipalities and not to destroy Connecticut’s Safety Net.
The importance of speaking honestly with the people of Connecticut about the reality of tax increases and budget cuts is perhaps nowhere more evident than when it comes to the reality facing those who attend or seek to attend one of Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education.
Despite the rhetoric, the undisputed truth is that as Connecticut state government makes cuts to its public colleges and universities, the cost of providing a high quality education is shifted more and more to students and their families.
That is not to say that our colleges should be exempt from cuts or that, like the rest of government, greater efficiency and effectiveness should not be demanded, but the truth is, it costs a lot of money to provide the type of education students need to succeed in the 21st Century.
In Connecticut, the overall level of state support has been decreasing over the past two decades.
For example, in 1991 the state provided 50 percent of the costs of running the University of Connecticut, today that percentage is below one third. As the overall budgets for UConn, Connecticut State University and the Community Colleges grew by well over 200% over the past two decades, the level of funding from state government increased by only about 80% Since funding for higher education comes from primarily two sources, the state and the students, without adequate increases in state funding, tuition and fees have been forced up in increasing amounts.
At UConn, tuition over the past two decades has gone up 284 percent, and well over 350 percent at CSU. The data are clear, the evidence is profound, the truth is that as the state makes cuts, costs are shifted to students and their families.
As a direct result of the state’s decision to remove money from UConn’s Operating Fund, tuition is already scheduled to jump 7%.
Yesterday, Governor Malloy proposed cutting Connecticut’s public colleges by about $70 million.
Malloy’s Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Ben Barnes said the 10 percent cut was really 2 to 3 percent cut because the schools have “significant resources beyond their general fund block grants,”
When asked about the impact, Malloy’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Mike Meotti said “We just can’t project what this is going to mean on tuition yet…But you can’t really say ‘Ahhha, this is going to lead to tuition increases.
Ben Barnes and Mike Meotti are two the smartest, most capable people in state government or, for that matter, anywhere.
The fact is, the previously approved 7% tuition increase (needed to make up for last year’s cut) will mean an increase of about $700 for every student.
Cutting $21 million more, as Governor Malloy proposes will force tuition up even further. Can reductions and efficiencies reduce UConn’s need to come up with the $21 million?
Of course, savings can and will be found, but considering the primary costs of a university are faculty and staff, as well as energy and other necessary expenditures, the vast amount of the cut will need to be made up. That is the simple truth. Why? Because higher education is an expensive endeavor to provide and a variety of factors including the by-laws and contracts that Connecticut’s public institutions must legally follow make it impossible for these institutions to cut $21 million in a single year.
The Commissioner of Higher Education knows that, the Secretary of the Office and Policy Management knows that and Governor knows that.
Spin is no replacement for the facts.
To make up for this additional cut, UConn would need to raise tuition by a total of 17 percent or about $1,700 per student. Equally significant impacts will be felt at Connecticut State University and the Community Colleges. To suggest otherwise is simply not being honest about the impact budget cuts have.
And if Connecticut is to successfully deal with this financial crisis, real, direct honesty on the part of our elected officials must be the number one priority.