Tuition increases at the University of Connecticut are increasing the financial burden on students as the university seeks to expand its faculty.
Since 2012, UConn has hired 188 new full-time, tenure-track faculty and professors-in-residence.
The university began instituting tuition increases in 2012-13 to offset the costs of the faculty hiring plan initiated that same year, a plan which will bring a net total of about 300 new faculty to the Storrs campus by 2015.
The UConn Board of Trustees approved a four-year tuition increase schedule in December 2011, with hiring plan-related increases starting prior to the 2012-13 academic year and scheduled to end after the 2015-16 academic year.
“Nearly 7,000 people have applied so far for the UConn positions, which are being created as part of a tuition-funded plan to solidify UConn’s academic core, strengthen research and teaching in key fields, and reduce class sizes,” UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in a press release.
Tuition increased by 5.5 percent prior to the 2012-13 academic year, and again by 6.25 percent prior to the 2013-14 academic year. Over the course of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years tuition is scheduled to increase by 6.5 percent and 6.75 percent, respectively.
For the 2012-13 academic year, tuition and fees, including room and board for in-state residents and out-of-state residents, was $22,742 and $40,574, respectively. Tuition for in-state residents increased by about $1,000 to $23,744 prior to the 2013-14 academic year, while tuition for out-of-state students increased by over $2,000, pushing that total to $42,692.
“Upping your tuition, even if its only a couple hundred dollars every year, adds up,” transfer student and ninth-semester animal science major Tessa Kalin said.
“I went to community college because it was cheaper to go there, get the same classes, and then come here. But it turned out as soon as I got here that tuition was going up again. I gave up living in the UConn community in order to save money and still take the classes that I need.”
In light of students’ concerns, Reitz emphasized that the university remains conscious of the increasing cost of a college education, and the stress that cost puts on students during and after their time at UConn.
“President Herbst has said that in a perfect world, she and other presidents wish that college was free. It’s that important,” Reitz said. “And while that can’t generally be the case, we’re committed to keeping UConn’s costs low, our salaries in line with comparable universities and our financial aid robust.”
Reitz said in a press release that the university expects to hire 100 more faculty during the 2013-14 budget year, with that next wave of hires scheduled to join UConn in 2014.
One of the 188 faculty UConn has hired over the last two years is Paul Herrnson, who arrived in Storrs this summer after a 24-year teaching career at the University of Maryland. Herrnson is executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.
“The impact of new faculty – and I understand the new faculty come from across all disciplines and across all ranks, from fresh out of graduate school to people like me who've had a chance to accomplish things – is very important because it leads to new synergies and new ideas,” Herrnson said.
Herrnson said he was immediately drawn to the palpable momentum of the university’s initiatives, as well as the chance to lead the Roper Center, one of the premier centers of its kind in the United States.
“I felt a tremendous energy on campus. There's lots of growth, lots of planning, lots of ambition and lots of aspiration to make the place world-known,” Herrnson said. “That feeling and that environment was similar to the environment that drew me to the University of Maryland 24 years ago.”
Herrnson’s appointment is just one example of UConn’s deliberate plan to hire faculty away from some the nation’s top universities, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina and University of Virginia.
“There’s a buzz about what we’re doing here,” Reitz said.
The aggressive nature of both the hiring plan and the university’s overall expansion – coupled with continued financial backing of the State of Connecticut in a time of economic downturn nationwide – have been major selling points of the plan, with professors in some cases giving up tenure positions at other institutions to come to UConn.
“Many other public universities, facing the same financial constraints that we are, have been working to maintain the status quo in hiring. There’s nothing wrong with that, and indeed that’s what UConn had been doing. But the difference here is that we saw the opportunity to make a long-term difference and are seizing it.”
While undergraduate enrollment at the Storrs campus has increased from 17,815 in 2011 to a record-high 18,032 in 2013, the university’s student-faculty ratio – the reduction of which has been a driving force behind the hiring plan – has declined, falling from 18.3-to-1 in 2011, to 17.3-to-1 in 2012 to 16.3-to-1 in 2013.
“The goal of going down to 15-to-1 is well within our reach,” UConn Provost Mun Choi said in a press release.
However, not all students have expressed outright support of the hiring plan due to the tuition increases it carries.
Undergraduate Student Government chief of staff John Giardina said many students understand that tuition increases are not uncommon due to the demand for institutional growth in a time of increasing budget constraints, but that they are also wary of tuition hikes of any kind.
“As students, we of course don't want to pay higher tuition prices,” Giardina said. “But at the same time, we understand that it takes a certain amount of money to run the university, and all we ask from the administration is that they exhaust every possible option for funding the university in a manner that makes it the best it can be before they raise tuition.”
Giardina, who stressed the need for universities to use tuition increases as a last resort, also stressed the need for students to be vocal about any difficulties or concerns they have when it comes to paying for college.
“For most tuition increases for the level they're at, it will almost always affect people's ability to come to college,” Giardina said. “I would say (to students) ‘tell the university, and work to make sure they know they need to either not increase the costs of attending UConn, not increase the tuition, or provide more scholarships to the people who really need them.’”
Despite some students’ apprehension, Reitz said the increases are needed to move the university forward and cement UConn’s standing as one of the nation’s top public universities in a period of decreased state funding.
“Given the reductions that UConn has absorbed as state support has dropped, the only feasible way to ensure the hiring plan would take place was to use tuition,” Reitz said. “With the promise by the trustees and president that the money would go back toward improving the students’ educational experience.”
This story was written as an assignment for a Newswriting I course at UConn. It was not published in any news outlets.