Last year, it was announced that the University of Connecticut would guarantee free tuition for Connecticut students with household incomes less than $50,000 through a program called the “Connecticut Commitment.” At the time, UConn’s vice president for enrollment planning and management Nathan Fuerst said of the program, “We are sending a loud message to Connecticut students: Not only do we want you at UConn, we want to make your degree affordable.”
Last week, the university announced that it would be pausing the Connecticut Commitment.
As UConn faces historically massive budget deficits, reports of program cuts are expected. The university cites “financial fallout” and an inability to raise enough funds from private donors as the basis for pausing the program.
In their announcement from last week, the university asserted that despite the pause in the program their “commitment to financial need, affordability and accessibility only grows.” It is difficult to reconcile the validity of this claim with the stated purposes and aspirations of the program in its inauguration last year. These stated purposes and aspirations conceded issues of transparency and presented the program as being a necessary and highly important first step towards increasing accessibility to higher education in the state. President Thomas Katsouleas described the program’s role in expanding accessibility to “high quality and affordable education” as being “critical.” Fuerst said that the goal of the program “goes beyond affordability” to “also provide transparency and better predictability for parents and prospective students.”
Yet in the university’s announcement last week, Fuerst said that pausing the program “does not dilute” the university’s commitment to “providing strong aid.” If the university’s commitment is not at all diluted by pausing the Connecticut Commitment, then how could the program have been considered so monumental in its inauguration? If the program was created to provide “better predictability,” and if the program was created to serve those on whom the burden of an economic crisis would fall most heavily, should it not be a shock that it is one of the very first aid programs to be put on pause for lack of funding?
The pausing of the Connecticut Commitment likely will not be the last announcement of program cuts in the months to come. Faced with a growing budget deficit as the university remains unable to fully open next semester and as the country faces an economic crisis, difficult decisions will have to be made. Yet with economic decisions, as well as social and cultural decisions, the university always has a choice of whether to oppose with great force or to replicate the patterns of burden that crises unequally apportion to different subsets of society. In the stark inconsistencies with the university’s communications at the onset of the program and last week, the university has sent a profoundly mixed message of where it stands.