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UConn's New President: Framing The Message On Financial Aid

Thomas Katsouleas
Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
UConn president Thomas Katsouleas

The new president of the University of Connecticut says he’ll be unveiling a program next month to help low income students attend UConn for free.

Thomas Katsouleas said, at the same time, to mark his October 4th inauguration, the school will also launch a new campaign to raise scholarship funds to allow other students to offset more of the cost of college. 

Katsouleas becomes the university’s 16th president. He took over the job from Susan Herbst this summer, after her 8-year stint at the helm of UConn.

In a wide-ranging interview, Katsouleas told Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, he wanted to come to UConn because it’s one of the fastest-rising public universities in the country. But he said it must become accessible to a wider range of students.

“We’ll be framing our message about the financial aid we provide to students,” he said. “In particular students who come from families below a certain income level, we want them to know they can come to UConn for free. Our fear is students especially from first generation families who have not come to college before are not even applying to UConn because they feel it’s either not for them or it’s too expensive.” 

He did not elaborate on the income level at which students might qualify for the program.

He said his biggest goal for his tenure is to double the research funding coming in to the school in the next 7 to 10 years.

“Very few, if any, universities have done anything quite that ambitious, on that scale,”he said. “I like to say the goal is to double research -- and scholarship.”

Katsouleas comes at a time of controversy and change for the school’s athletic programs, most of which will move back to the Big East conference next year.

He backed UConn’s sports programs, despite the high cost for the university to subsidize athletics. He said he hopes the conference move will help it return more revenue.

“Athletics provides tremendous value to the students, to the community,’ he said. “I agree, the subsidy, we’re on the high side compared to peers. David Benedict the athletic director and I both agree we need to be on a trajectory to closing that subsidy.”

Elsewhere, Katsouleas said he’s actively seeking a private partner for UConn Health -- a move that was mandated by the General Assembly last session. Some state lawmakers have complained about the large payroll bill at the health system, with multiple employees making more than $150,000 a year.

But Katsouleas said UConn Health should be well placed to attract a strategic partnership.

“We are exploring it, we are looking for win-wins, some sort of synergy and partnership,” he said. “The costs associated with salaries are not significantly different between UConn and the private market. UConn Health is a fantastic brand. Being associated with an academic medical center where the doctors are making the new discoveries that are curing disease -- it will be a competitive advantage for whomever partners with UConn Health.”

“The health system’s been growing, clinical revenues by 60 percent over the last six years, which is really pretty remarkable,” he said.

But he noted that the fiscal challenges of the state are a drag on all aspects of the university’s ambitions.

“The unfunded pension liability is the big 800lb gorilla in the room, there’s no question about it. It has multiple impacts.”

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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