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CSCU leaders warn of layoffs, possible campus closures due to budget

Warning of layoffs, tuition hikes and possible campus closures, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Terrence Cheng gathered leaders and students from all seventeen state and community colleges for a press conference at the Capitol to protest the latest budget passed by the Appropriations Committee.

“The proposed budget in its current form would be devastating to CSCU,” Cheng said, noting that the budget represents the “worst case scenario” for the higher education system. “So, we know in detail what will happen if this budget becomes law.”

That worst case scenario means laying off slightly more than 650 full time staff and upwards of 3,000 part-time staff over the next two years, program cuts and tuition increases. Cheng said this could impact quality of life and services for students and could result in the potential closure of some campuses.

“The Board or Regents will have to evaluate which of our institutions and campuses have the resources to sustain these kinds of cuts and which campuses do not,” Cheng said. “Closures will not only reduce access but will crush the cities and towns where our campuses serve as pillars of their communities.”

According to numbers presented after the press conference by CSCU Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Barnes, former budget chief under Gov. Dannel Malloy, the CSCU system would need an additional $334 million — $109 million in the first year and $225 million in the second year – to avoid the layoffs and tuition increases.

Barnes noted the CSCU system has been preparing for the layoffs since Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget presentation, which proposed $80 million less in funding for CSCU. Lamont’s budget presentation highlighted declining enrollment at CSCU, which decreased by 25,000 between 2014 and 2023.

Cheng addressed the enrollment decline stating enrollment has now stabilized and they are making efforts to increase the number of students. “We can’t create and launch new programs for students without state support,” Cheng said. “The truth is this divestment in CSCU will force students out of higher education altogether. This will hurt the economy and hurt communities.”

 “It is better than the governor’s initial proposal and I’m glad to see that progress,” said Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield who serves as co-chair on the Higher Education Committee and voted against the Appropriations Committee budget. “But we need to do more.”

Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, said he feared this budget would “kick start a death spiral for this system.”

“We have a choice to make,” Slap said. “Challenging and declining enrollments, higher and higher tuitions, what dynamic does that create?”

State aid and state fringe benefits support comprise 58 percent of CSCU’s revenues which top out at $2.7 billion over two years, but total expenditures are estimated to be slightly more than $3.1 billion. CSCU operating revenue is estimated to account for $1.1 billion.

“Tuition fees will never cover our cost of operations,” said Dr. O. John Maduko, inaugural president of the Connecticut State Community College. “That’s never been the reality of our institutions, so it’s upsetting, it’s sickening, that the budget is coming to a certain degree where we’re now asking the questions as leaders we don’t ever want to ask in higher education, in terms of who stays and who goes, in terms of what services can we maintain and what services have to go.”

Lamont’s budget chief Jeffrey Beckham, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, issued a statement following the press conference reiterating the enrollment decline within CSCU and arguing CSCU’s future funding proposal — called the CSCU 2030 plan — is “unrealistic” and “unsustainable.” Beckham emphasized that Lamont has consistently increased funding for higher education.

“CSCU’s request for additional funding appears to be based on a belief that one-time federal funding to compensate for COVID-related costs should continue in perpetuity,” Beckham said. “Simply asking for ever-increasing operating subsidies is not sustainable. Before looking to the taxpayers and students for additional funding, they must get their costs under control and in line with the current and expected future demand for students, which has decreased by 36 percent in the community colleges and 21 percent at the regional state universities. The students and taxpayers deserve value for their dollar, it is apparent that the CSCU administration needs to do more to assure that value.”

CSCU received $377.7 million in additional state support and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds between 2020 and 2022, meant to cover the cost of tuition loss during the pandemic. However, CSCU leaders also noted that expenditures were driven up, in part, due to the latest $1.9 billion agreement between Gov. Lamont and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), which awarded raises for state employees, including those in the CSCU system.

“The pandemic relief was ultimately spent to match the pressure on the budget that resulted from the signing of our SEBAC agreements,” Cheng said.

CSCU’s latest budget estimates also include an additional $53.5 million in fiscal year 2025 to account for a 2025 wage reopener included in the SEBAC deal. According to a CSCU budget presentation to the Appropriations Committee, state funding for operations since 2007 has essentially remained flat due to increasing inflation, fringe benefit costs and contractual wage increases.

Lamont’s budget elicited a protest by University of Connecticut students and UConn President Radenka Maric who called for more funding and warned of tuition increases and potentially pulling back from sporting events in Hartford. CSCU, however, did not offer such criticisms of Lamont’s budget at the time, choosing to come forward after the Appropriations Committee passed their budget.

Lamont also proposed reformulating how the state supports fringe benefits for higher education employees at both UConn and CSCU, which have escalated rapidly over the years due to Connecticut’s long-time pension liabilities, and the Appropriations Committee included that proposal in their budget.

Co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said they couldn’t make everyone happy with the budget, which, despite revenue surpluses, is constrained by fiscal guardrails and a state spending cap.

Haddad said he was encouraged by statements issued by House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, and Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, that they would seek additional revenue for higher education. 

“That’s a conversation that needs to be serious and needs to yield results,” Haddad said.

**This article was updated with comments by Jeffrey Beckham, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management**

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

1 Comment

  1. JJ Chester
    April 24, 2023 @ 10:42 pm

    What is the ratio of teaching faculty to administrators and staff? How much of the CSCU budget actually goes to teaching? On Feb. 12, the trustees of Purdue University approved the 13th consecutive tuition freeze. Imagine that, the tuition at a world-class university with 50,000+ students has managed to remain in operation without raising tuition since 2010. Wake up Connecticut!


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