President Advocates For
President Philip E. Austin asked legislators last week to continue to invest in UConn by providing not less than the existing state share of funding needed to maintain current services next year. He also urged them not to implement a proposed tuition freeze for next year.
The governor’s recommended budget for the Storrs-based programs is $5.3 million short of the funds necessary to maintain current services, and includes a recommendation that all tuition hikes at public colleges be eliminated for next fall. A rise in tuition would generate about $7.8 million in added revenue for the University.
The shortfall in the operating budget, coupled with the tuition freeze, would create a more than $13 million budget gap that includes the cost of mandated collective bargaining increases for the 2006 fiscal year.
“UConn employees stepped up early on to freeze their salaries when the state had a tremendous shortfall,” Austin said. “We were very grateful for their help. Their increases must be paid now.”
Austin said the state must demonstrate that it values a UConn education. “The state of Connecticut and its municipalities together invest an average of more than $130,000 in a student in the course of that child’s education, preschool through grade 12,” he said. “To allow that investment to leave the state upon high school graduation undermines sound economic strategy. Simply stated, for every Connecticut student who stays here for college, the state builds on its prior investment and grows its potential workforce.”
UConn has been exceptionally successful due in great part to the Legislature’s support for programs such as UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn, which are providing $2.3 billion in capital funds over 20 years to renew, rebuild, and enhance the University’s campuses, Austin said.
That has led to unprecedented enrollment growth, increases in minority enrollment, and, since 1995, an increase in SAT scores of 64 points. “Applications to the main campus have gone from 9,874 in 1995 to 18,467 in 2004, an increase of 87 percent. Applications are a measure of the attractiveness of UConn in terms of quality and affordability,” Austin said. “This is the competitive marketplace at work.”
But, Austin said, the University needs operating funds both to assure quality and also to ensure that students can graduate in four years.
“While our students, on average, graduate in 4.4 years compared to the national average of 4.7, and our six-year graduation rate is high among the nation’s public universities, the goal for almost all of our students should be completing a degree in four years,” he said. “Ensuring that students can graduate in four years will make better use of state operating and capital resources, enable more students to take advantage of a UConn education, and, not insignificantly, save parents and students the costs associated with the need for an extra semester or more. This should make UConn’s already competitive price into an even bigger bargain for Connecticut parents.”
While student enrollment has skyrocketed, he said, faculty size has increased only 4.5 percent in recent years. “Our ability to continue to enrich the educational experience of our undergraduates and, equally important, strengthen our research and scholarly activities, is dependent upon our having the financial wherewithal to expand our faculty ranks. We are committed to access, and we are committed to quality. Both require resources.”
Austin noted that 37 cents of every dollar of tuition is committed to financial aid for students, and that 75 percent of students receive some form of financial assistance. “We remain absolutely committed to ensuring that no high-achieving student is denied a UConn education for financial reasons,” he said.
But while tuition has gone up over the past decade, he pointed out, UConn students graduate with $2,000 less debt that other graduates of New England public universities. A recent study done by Thomas G. Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Student of Opportunity in Higher Education, ranked UConn number five in the nation on its equity index, an indicator of institutional commitment to serving low-income students.
“If any student is being denied a place at UConn now, it is because of academic competition, not price,” Austin said. “Our price is very competitive. But price without quality is no value at all. The deeper truth of this success story is that our students come to us because of the value of a UConn education. It is the quality that keeps them with us.”
UConn’s cost of $14,894 for an in-state student, including tuition, fees, room, and board, is 50 percent to 60 percent of what a Connecticut student is charged at other state public universities, and 37 percent to 45 percent of what many private schools charge.
The state portion of the UConn budget – which was nearly half of the budget 10 years ago – is now just over a third of the total budget. Commissioner Valerie Lewis of the Department of Higher Education has maintained that the University can use a one-time surplus generated last year to cover the loss of tuition income if a tuition freeze is imposed. However, the savings, which occurred because the University hired adjunct professors last year while it searched for permanent faculty after the state’s Early Retirement Program left 82 faculty vacancies, all of which have now been filled. The one-time cost savings have been committed to one-time expenditures, such as instructional technology upgrades.
“It would not be prudent to use one-time savings to attempt to cover recurring costs such as collective bargaining increases,” said Lorraine M. Aronson, vice president and chief financial officer.“We are not out of reach for Connecticut students, who have demonstrated that they seek quality and recognize value when they see it.”
Austin also asked legislators to keep the state match for endowment gifts at $1 from the state for every $2 contributed to the University. The program has been a huge incentive for donors, he said: “Planning for our next capital campaign has already begun and the state matching grant has provided and, hopefully, will continue to provide us with a critical advantage in the competition for private philanthropy. This program has been achieving the goals articulated when you enacted it and we thank you for honoring your commitment to our donors and to those of the other public colleges and universities.”
Austin also asked legislators to provide current services funding for the Health Center. The proposed Health Center state budget for FY 2006 is $1.6 million less than current services.
Peter Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs, said the budget is essential to maintain the contribution the Health Center makes to the state.
“By the discovery of new biomedical knowledge, the teaching of that and established knowledge to the next generation of physicians, dentists, and scientists, and the integration of both into the care of patients, especially disadvantaged patients, this Health Center delivers an important good that society cannot live without,” he said. “Our work has a very significant direct and indirect benefit to the state and the region’s economy. Continued investment by the state in the research, education, and public health missions of the Health Center has an immediate and long-term benefit for all that is much more than the sum of the parts.”