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Tuition increases likely as higher education funding drops

WCSU commencement

State funding to Western Connecticut State University has decreased by 8 percent in the past five years. Pictured: The 2012 graduate commencement at WCSU. Photo courtesy of WCSU.

As the state continues to tighten its belt when it comes to funding higher education, an increase in tuition is likely on the horizon at the state’s colleges and universities.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” said Colleen Flanagan Johnson, director of public affairs for the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. “The regents are incredibly mindful in making sure that our school remains an accessible and affordable option for our students as they pursue their education.”

Flanagan Johnson said it was likely tuition would increase but that it was too premature to say for sure or by how much.

However, recent state budget deficit mitigation plans enacted in the last couple of months have cut upwards of $14 million from higher education for the 2013 fiscal year, forcing the system to rethink its own plans. The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system is made up of four state universities, 12 community colleges and one online state college.

“We understand it’s a difficult situation for the governor,” Flanagan Johnson said. “We know he has a number of priorities he’d like to pursue that are being impacted by this budget.”

State funding to Western Connecticut State University in Danbury has decreased by roughly 8 percent over the five years, estimated spokesman Paul Steinmetz, which he said has triggered a shift in needing to think more like a private college.

“We have to make sure we can stand on our own with declining state support,” Steinmetz said. “There are a lot of factors that are changing and we have to figure out how to address them.”

Much like other CSCU schools over the last couple years, every department at Western has been asked to cut its budget, return unused funds and implement a hiring freeze. On a larger scale, CSCU’s recent effort to consolidate its board of trustees has saved $5.5 million, which went toward hiring new faulty and student support positions. Now CSCU is working on centralizing its IT system in order to save money.

With enrollment down at Western and other CSCU colleges, revenues have declined, making it more difficult to budget, officials said.

Steinmetz said the Western administrators aren’t sure why there has been a decrease and are still investigating why enrollment has been down. However administrators have been asking themselves whether it the cost of college in general or Western’s cost that is deterring students, Steinmetz said.

He said he believes the school still presents a good value even as private colleges begin to lower their own tuition costs to remain competitive.

“Higher education—the whole industry—is examining itself and looking at things like student debt, value and relevancy,” said Steinmetz. “There’s a lot of change going on, and here at Western we are actively analyzing where we stand and looking for ways to improve what we do so that we provide the best value to students. The proof will be our students coming here.”

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About The Author

Jennifer Bissell
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Jennifer Bissell is a reporter for both the Fairfield and Westchester business journals. Previously she attended the University of Minnesota and contributed to several regional publications including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Cloud Times and Twin Cities Business magazine.

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