The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees voted to increase student fees Wednesday, Dec. 7 at their final meeting of 2022, according to The Daily Campus. As a result, tuition and fees for undergraduate residential students will increase over $1,300 and nearly $1,000 for commuting graduate students in the next fiscal year. All fee increases are available to view through the Student Fee Rate Proposal presentation.
Although the stated rationale of this year’s fee increases is to “to protect affordability by increasing them only when absolutely necessary… to promote simplicity and transparency…and to use the revenue to help ensure financial stability and quality,” The Daily Campus Editorial Board holds that these fee increases are not only unnecessary but excessive, undemocratic and completely against the interests of both undergraduate and graduate students. Students are already facing sharply rising costs of living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, throughout the process of publicizing, accepting comments and voting on the fee bill increase, the university has violated all of the guidelines for its rationale as stated above.
Firstly, the Editorial Board reflects the sentiment of graduate and undergraduate students, including those in the Graduate Employee Union, who expressed problems with the fee increases. Comparing the fee increase and compensation increases negotiated by the GEU from 2022-2023, graduate assistants will experience a net loss in funds for the next fiscal year, effectively negating their hard-negotiated gains through collective bargaining. Excessive fee increases undermine the right to collective bargaining, regardless of what they are meant to pay for.
As evident by the board of trustees’ vote to approve multiple costly construction problems, it is precisely UConn’s spending that poses an issue. It is clear from the UConn Campus Master Plan that the university only plans to accelerate the development of new construction projects to accommodate more enrollment, both of which will increase the operations and capital expenditures immensely. Furthermore, it’s concerning that UConn is forcing tuition and fees up so drastically while bloated divisions such as the UConn Police Department and hefty administrator salaries do not receive nearly as much scrutiny. Students and employees should not have to struggle under the burden of the university’s frivolous and unsustainable spending decisions.
Increasing costs of attendance signal a worrying trend whereby the portion of costs fronted by UConn and the state is decreasing and the cost burden on students is only increasing. As part of providing a quality and empowering education, UConn administrators and trustees have the responsibility to ensure that this education is sustainable as well. Just as students can be responsible for seeking scholarships and financial aid, the university has a unique power to lobby the state of Connecticut for more resources such as grants — the time could not be more opportune, with the state proudly adorning a $2.8 billion budget surplus. UConn is one of Connecticut’s most important assets, and UConn administrators and trustees must leverage their positions to make this case to state leaders as they have failed to do thus far. This could even be a point of cooperation between administrators and the student body, each fundamentally interested in protecting our institutions’ share of public funds.
Ultimately, the decision to increase fees is a fundamentally undemocratic one. With barely two days’ notice from a post buried within the UConn Daily Digest on Nov. 28, students had the opportunity to attend two in-person town halls as well as an in-person one to ask questions and provide input to UConn CFO Lloyd Blanchard. Only two students — each a student trustee of the graduate and undergraduate populations, the only communities harmed by the decision — had any direct voting power on the proposed increase and are dwarfed by the remaining trustees who represent the austere financial interests of the university. Students deserve proper, meaningful notice, input and deciding power in all matters that deeply impact us.
Colleges are centers to cultivate knowledge first, not revenue. It is disappointing that students, seeking a quality education from a premier institution, are being blamed for increased costs which stem from the failure of administrators to make sound financial decisions and plan for sustainability and affordability. This attitude abandons responsibility for working with state leaders and community members to reduce expenses while preserving the quality of this institution. UConn’s leaders must prove themselves accountable to their constituents and reevaluate proposed fees to represent student and employee interests, not ambitious plans for unsustainable growth.
Although the Editorial Board opposes the funding of public education and student organizations through regressive tuition and fees, widespread inflation has compelled The Daily Campus to request a FY2024 General Activity Fee increase for our organization, on which our continued printing and staff wages depend entirely.