Are Connecticut’s public colleges and universities in the cross-hairs again?
Yeah…yeah… we’ve heard all it all before…“A well educated workforce is the key to economic growth and prosperity” and “The percentage of college educated workers is one of the single most important factors to a state’s economic health.”
However, when it comes to adequate state support for our public colleges and universities, Connecticut has a long and sad record of failure.
Twenty years ago, when we already ranked at the bottom of the nation, about half of UConn’s budget came from state funds.
This year, the state of Connecticut will cover less than a third of the University’s total operating expenses.
A similar story holds true at Connecticut State University and Connecticut’s Community and Technical College System.
Without enough state funds to fulfill their missions, Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education have been forced to become increasingly reliant on students and their parents to pick up the costs associated with running high quality educational programs.
Whether at UConn, CSU or the Community/Technical Colleges, tuition and fees are now paying for the lion’s share of the total operating cost.
Adding to the problem, at UConn, not only have there been record tuition increases but the University has dramatically increased the number of students as a way to raise additional revenue. Their rationale is simple – more students mean more tuition and fees, even if the end result is larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and the need to take more than 4 years to complete a basic bachelor’s degree.
Since the UConn 2000 infrastructure program began in 1995, the number of students at UConn has jumped from 14,500 to 21,500. However, in a stunning tribute to the notion of “pay more, get less”, while the number of students has increased by 48 percent, the number of full-time faculty is up barely 15%.
As Governor Rell and the Legislature grappled for ways to “balance” this year’s budget without having to deal with any political ramifications they did something that had never, ever been done before. Rather than “cut” the budget for Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education, they actually reached into the school’s internal operating fund and transferred more than $30 million in student tuition and fees over to the state’s General Fund.
Not only did the gimmick mean students and parents paid more in tuition only to see the money go to the state’s non-higher education costs but this maneuver amounted to the deepest percentage cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges in state history.
In recent weeks, the Malloy Administration has made it clear that they will be calling for shared sacrifice as they look for record budget cuts. The problem is that that Connecticut families seeking a college degree have already sacrificed far more than their fair share.
Further complicating the notion of shared sacrifice is that fact that the new Administration and the Legislature fully understands that there are significant areas of the state budget where cuts are simply not possible – either because there is a consensus that the services are just to vital to cut or there isn’t the political will to make those cuts.
For example, State government can’t cut its debt services payments; we’ve already learned the disaster associated with failing to make pension payments; Malloy has promised not to cut local education funding and every dollar cut from Medicaid (health programs) means an immediate loss of 50 cent in federal reimbursement.
So the notion of across the board cuts is absurd.
Certain areas will be cut deeper than others and Connecticut’s history is to cut our public colleges and universities knowing that if the schools really need the funds they can get them by increasing tuition.
While the Malloy Administration would not be alone in targeting cuts to higher education, California’s new governor has proposed nearly $2 billion in cuts to their colleges, it is important to note that not all states are undermining the work of their universities.
Gov. Robert M. McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican Governor recently proposed adding $50 million to their higher education budget. It would be part his longer term plan to create a more educated workforce
Meanwhile, Sam Brownback, the new ultra-conservative Republican governor of Kansas has actually proposed a three-year, $105-million plan to enhance their university programs that educate students for high-paying jobs in areas such as aviation, cancer research, and engineering.
And not to be outdone, this year, North Carolina actually increased their higher education budget this year by 6%.
Of the 50 states, the average percentage of the state budget devoted to public higher education is 9%.
Virginia already devotes 14% of its state budget to its public colleges, North Carolina 16% and Minnesota 23%.
Connecticut is at 7.3% and dropping.
Cutting our colleges is bad for our economy, bad for middle class families and bad for our society.
Next Wednesday, budget day, will tell us a lot about what “shared sacrifice” really means