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UConn trustees OK 17-percent hike in school costs

By Pat Eaton-Robb
Associated Press / December 19, 2011
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STORRS, Conn.—University of Connecticut trustees voted without dissent Monday to approve an increase in tuition and other student costs totaling 17 percent, which will be phased in over four years starting next fall under a plan to hire more faculty.

The measure approved on a voice vote is designed to raise about $50 million by increasing tuition and other fees by between 6 percent and 6.8 percent annually, from the current level of $10, 670 for an in-state student to $11,902 next year and $13,130 in the 2016 fiscal year. Room and board also will increase by 3 percent each year.

The total yearly cost of attending UConn, currently $21,720 for Connecticut residents, will increase to $22,430 next year and to $25,518 in 2016, according to the school. Out-of-state students, who currently pay $38,616, would pay $47,070 in 2016.

The increase comes on the heels of state budget cuts that slashed funding to UConn by $25 million.

UConn President Susan Herbst said the funds from the tuition hike will be used to hire 290 new faculty members, making classes more available for students and freeing up time for research work.

"When you do not have strong faculty numbers, you invent less and you create less," she told the board. "The university that will cure cancer will be one where there are cancer researchers hired. The university that will invent the cleanest forms of energy will be the one where engineers are hired."

Critics complain that the hikes simply shift the burden of the university budget from the state to students. Former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto, a Democrat who represented the district that includes UConn for 10 years, said the numbers don't seem to add up.

"Over the next four years they are losing $25 million a year from the state," he said. "You need that $100 million just to maintain current services. You now have a tuition increase that brings in $50 million that you say is going to be used on new faculty? That leaves you $50 million below the current services."

Herbst, who started at UConn in June, said the plan will reduce the 18-to-1 ratio of students to professors to 15-to-1. UConn was at that lower ratio until about 10 years ago, when enrollment started climbing but hiring didn't keep pace.

UConn figures show undergraduate enrollment went up 53 percent since 1995 to just under 22,000 students in the fall of 2010, including over 17,300 on the main campus in Storrs. But the faculty numbers increased by 16 percent during the same time frame. The school reported 1,795 full-time faculty members on its campuses and at the UConn Health Center in the fall of 2010.

"We understand the cuts in appropriations," Herbst said after the vote. "The state has to balance its budget and we accept that. But we also have to move the university forward and again pay for everything we do here."

Herbst said the costs will put UConn in the middle of the pack among top public research universities, and promised there would be also increases in financial aid.

Lyle Scruggs, a UConn political science professor and president of its chapter of the American Association of University Professors union, said additional faculty will lead to more research grants, more patents, and more economic development. He said it can also save money for the same students whose tuition will be rising.

"In some departments we're telling students they have to go to summer school because we don't have enough courses to offer them to get all the classes they need to major in," he said. "So if students have to go to summer school or an extra semester to complete the requirements for a major because of inadequate faculty, then those students have to pay more to graduate."

Sam Tracy, a junior from South Windsor and president of UConn's Undergraduate Student Government, said he also supports the plan to bring more professors to the school. But Tracy also expressed concern that the tuition hike proposal wasn't presented to students until exam week, and was voted on while they were moving out of their dorms for the holiday break.

"The timing of this discussion has prevented many students from learning about and voicing their opinions on the proposed increases," he said.

Herbst said the timing was unfortunate, but the school wanted to get the plan approved quickly, so that students now receiving acceptance letters to UConn could make an informed decision.

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