University of Connecticut officials say the budget deficit at the university and its health center could top $91 million next year under the governor’s proposed budget, prompting discussions about what actions could be done to close the gap.
UConn, however, is not alone in facing fiscal challenges. Many of the state’s public colleges and universities are facing significant budget deficits for the current and upcoming fiscal years.
The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, which consists of the four CSUs, a dozen community colleges and the online Charter Oak College, announced last week it plans to enact an immediate hiring freeze and would consider tuition increases of between 3.5 and 5 percent for its schools at a meeting Tuesday.
While UConn does not plan to follow suit in enacting its own hiring freeze, a spokeswoman said, university officials will not rule out proposing another tuition hike in the near future.
“No additional tuition increases, beyond the plan passed in December, are planned at this time,” UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in an email. “However, when the board approved the tuition increase, it noted that it may be revisited should the university’s state appropriation dramatically fall, or rise, in future years.”
Revisiting December’s increase – which raises in-state tuition by 31 percent over the next four years – seems increasingly likely. The university is facing more than $30 million in state funding cuts under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget and a projected $53.5 million budget deficit if that plan is signed into law.
Without any state funding cuts, the university would still face a projected $18.9 million budget deficit, Reitz said.
UConn Health is not immune to the fiscal woes, either. It is already facing a $28 million projected deficit in the next fiscal year, which would rise to $38 million under the governor’s proposed budget.
The proposed state funding cuts remain tentative. Malloy’s budget was prepared and presented under the assumption the state would face a $570 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year. However, the latest numbers from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis project it could reach $900 million, meaning state legislators would have to consider additional cuts.
The decision continue hiring new faculty and staff does not mean the university is avoiding the issue altogether. Reitz said the university has “already significantly slowed and restricted hiring” as a result of the budgetary situation.
“All hiring is carefully scrutinized,” Reitz said. “However, we need to be able to hire professors and certain staff members so we can meet teaching demands and provide services to our campuses.”
This hiring slowdown has helped to mitigate the university’s budget deficit in the current fiscal year. UConn has been hit with state funding cuts twice – once in September and again in March – since the 2016 fiscal year budget was finalized. All told, it amounted to nearly $6.1 million in pledged state funds being taken away.
“For the past year, we have operated under strict hiring controls, requiring the sign-off of the president, executive vice president/CFO or provost for all hires,” Reitz said. “We’ve also challenged every department at the university to reduce expenditures, including through layoffs, which occurred last July. As a result, we’ve been able to manage the most recent state cut without substantially impacting the university’s academic programs.”
The tuition increase announcement from CSCU came during its spring break last week. CSCU President Mark Ojakian said in an email to the system’s 90,000 students he knew “this is not the news you wanted to receive.”
The proposal calls for increasing tuition by 5 percent at the CSUs, by 4 percent at Charter Oak College and by 3 percent at the community colleges. The CSCU’s Board of Regents for Higher Education is expected to approve it Tuesday.