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Higher education advocates and lawmakers prepare for public hearing on CT budget

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) and CSCU President Terrence Cheng.
Molly Ingram
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) and CSCU President Terrence Cheng.

Connecticut lawmakers and higher education advocates are preparing for a public hearing over funding for the state’s colleges and university system.

It’s scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 20, and is expected to be widely attended by students, educators and advocates — many of whom have called for more state funding for the system.

Before the session began, advocates gathered at the state Capitol to call for increased funding. Louise Williams, president of the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors, was one of them.

“[Governor Ned Lamont] must find a way to release some of our hoarded revenues to fully fund public education and all those things that help people thrive and excel,” Williams said. “Public education can not be saved by being starved.”

During his State of the State address, Lamont celebrated the $440 million allocated to the Board of Regents (BOR) for FY 2025. The BOR oversees four state universities, CT State (the state’s community college system) and Charter Oak.

The BOR was allocated $423 million this year (FY 2024).

“That budget makes our state’s largest-ever commitment to our universities,” Lamont said.

However, the BOR has asked Lamont to allocate an additional $47 million for next year.

Representative Gregg Haddad (D- Mansfield), chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said the system needs that money because it is in crisis — mostly due to the end of pandemic-era funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Total aid for the system was nearly $650 million this year. Next year, without those ARPA funds, it’s expected to be under $520 million.

Haddad asked state Budget Director Jeff Beckham to attend next week’s public hearing and listen to concerns from the higher ed community.

“We have a public hearing, as you know, on February 20,” Haddad said. “This room will be filled with faculty and staff, and advocates for public higher education. We will be here listening to their testimony. I will keep a seat open for you.”

Beckham said the administration has worked with the university system to find a solution— including taking on the fringe rate of the system’s pension liability.

“They told us for a decade or more that, but for that [fringe rate], they'd be in the black, they wouldn’t need more ever-increasing state support,” Beckham said. “Well, we did that. And it turns out, they still have needs. At some point, they need to sharpen their pencil, they've got a structural problem in both systems that they need to address.”

Cutting operational costs could include tuition hikes and staff layoffs. Beckham noted that hikes and layoffs were not insisted upon by the administration, they were presented as options.

Tuition at the four state universities (Southern, Eastern, Western and Central) and community colleges is already set to increase by 5% this fall.

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