Opinion: UConn needs to provide more value to Connecticut

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UConn is feeling the crunch of the state’s budget cuts. (The Hartford Courant)

Last year, when it was proposed to cut the state budget for UConn, the university’s residents and administration responded with much frustration and bargaining. Despite best efforts, it was confirmed that UConn would be losing $143 million over the next two years. Now a year removed, we must deal with the reality of these losses.

While there is still no evidence that cuts could lead to the cataclysmic scenarios President Herbst originally foretold, we will certainly be feeling a strain here at UConn. On Monday, UConn slipped outside of the top 20 public universities on the ubiquitous U.S. News rankings.

Dining halls will be closing at some point. Clubs are already being forced to downsize, albeit slightly for now. This downsizing will also probably hit staff and faculty. Oh, how could Connecticut forsake us so?

Or is the state justified? Obviously, Connecticut lawmakers are skeptical of UConn. More specifically, they are skeptical of UConn’s benefit to the state. By every metric, UConn is a success as a university. It possesses a high (but falling) standard as an institution, it produces a huge volume of research, and it still has some good sport teams. But, these are all to the benefit the university and its residents.

UConn does admittedly employ over 1% of the state, but in many other ways it struggles to lift up Connecticut. Unlike the “shining star” of UConn, Connecticut is dying.

For years, the state has been hemorrhaging people, both due to declining birth rates and emigration to better states. We cannot attract any big companies to revitalize the state’s job market. Our main city is Hartford, still coming apart at the seams.

As Connecticut policy makers and citizens are clearly aware, some big changes need to happen soon. Our economic core of people too rich to live in New York is realizing that the city is not so bad when compared to our hollow state. And so, one of these changes could be to stop relying on an underperforming public university. After all, much of UConn’s recent growth is from outside the state; Connecticut lawmakers do not and should not take non-Connecticut residents into account.

I am not saying that this is the right route, but many aspects of the university are disappointing. Our tech park equivalent is still struggling to fill the space with interested companies. Aetna left even after pouring funding into UConn’s actuarial program. Even ignoring strictly business interests (which Connecticut should not be doing), UConn still has a ways to go in terms of local integration, although initiatives like the Hartford campus show they are at least trying.

There just needs to be more reciprocity. Even after the budget cuts, Connecticut still gives almost $200 million to the university, and over $100 million to UConn Health. UConn makes this back and much more, but it is still a huge investment on the taxpayers’ part. As such, UConn needs to make more of an effort at helping the state of Connecticut.

While out-of-state students make the university more money, they are much less bound to the state after graduation. More effort in general needs to go to keeping UConn graduates of all walks in the state. There is no value to Connecticut in a student who leaves for New York, Boston, or California to work. There is a huge benefit in a student who stays and starts a family here.

Obviously, Connecticut needs to make more of an effort on these fronts. Obviously, UConn is a huge benefit to the state, even if the administration is chiefly concerned with self-preservation. Both sides need to work harder to ensure that the Connecticut-UConn relationship is mutually beneficial. With the overwhelming bias for UConn on campus, though, the university’s administration and residents cannot lose sight of our co-dependence with the state.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.  

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