© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Connecticut’s higher education funding remains in limbo

A Central Connecticut State University graduation ceremony.
Molly Ingram
A Central Connecticut State University graduation ceremony.

Budget negotiations have split Connecticut lawmakers and higher education system. Governor Ned Lamont said the system has received a massive increase in funding. Connecticut State College and University leaders don’t think it's enough.

The Appropriations Committee proposal would give the system $860 million — a slight increase from Lamont’s budget. Connecticut’s schools requested $1.3 billion.

Central Connecticut State University President Terrence Cheng said the system will have to lay off 650 full-time and 3,000 part-time faculty and staff, raise tuition and potentially even close some campuses if the budget passes as is.

“The reduction of services and value will hurt our enrollment,” Cheng said. “The Board of Regents will need to evaluate which of our institutions and campuses have the resources to sustain these kinds of cuts and which campuses do not. Closures will not only reduce access, but will crush the cities and towns where our campuses serve as pillars of their communities.”

Cheng said the current budget will leave the system in a $331 million deficit, due to wages and benefit packages. He also credited the COVID-19 pandemic for a system-wide enrollment drop that has left the system with less income.

State Higher Education Committee co-chair Senator Derek Slap (D-West Hartford) said the budget directly impacts the future of Connecticut’s workforce, and the state must fully fund it.

“We're not investing adequately in our institutions of higher education,” Slap said. “So we have a choice to make. Are we going to go that way? Or are we going to adopt a budget which I fear will kick start a death spiral for this system? Challenging and declining enrollments, higher and higher tuitions? What dynamic does that create?”

The CSCU system enrolls 85,000 students across 17 campuses.

Alcides Lopes Cabral is a student at Housatonic Community College. A rocky childhood led him to Connecticut, where he was given the opportunity to get an affordable degree. He wants others to have the same chance.

“There are thousands out there with stories like mine that are trying to change their life in their communities,” Cabral said. “The current budget proposal towards our education system will hold our state back rather than push it to the next level. In order to stay strong, we need to continue investing in the education and training of your future graduates — no, innovators — that will shape the future of our society.”

The system’s budget request is part of their “CSCU 2030” plan, which outlines the need for bigger state investments into public education. It was released this January.

Lamont said the CSCU system has received an increase in funds and may need to manage their money differently. A statement from the Office of Policy Management called the CSCU 2030 plan unrealistic.

“I've got 10 different departments, most of them would kill to have as big an increase as we give it to the CSCU’s and as well as UConn, by the way,” Lamont said. “These are big increases, obviously not enough from their point of view.”

Central Connecticut State University President Zulma Toro said the universities have already started cost cutting.

“We stopped the automatic refilling of open positions,” Toro said. “The university has also identified synergies between academic departments, leveraged resources, reduced course duplication, and increased course enrollment overall. Our institution cannot afford any further cuts without affecting its integrity, and therefore affecting the educational experience we offer our students.”

Cheng said they have no choice but to reach consensus, because the state and university system rely on each other.

“I think we need to just recalibrate,” Cheng said. “Understand that we are all on the same side. We are trying to get to a place where we can find balance so that the CSCU system can do the work that the state wants and needs us to do.”

The two parties have until June 7 to pass the budget, which takes effect on July 1.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.