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CT colleges preparing for 'crash landing' in next state budget, CSCU president says

Provided Photograph
CSCU President Terrence Cheng.

One of the bigger impediments to getting the latest biennial budget deal done has been the proposed funding for statewide higher education. While Gov. Ned Lamont’s office said his proposal does modestly raise funding for state colleges and universities, representatives of those institutions said they will experience a net funding decrease because federal pandemic relief funding funneled by the state to the institutions has dried up.

In late April, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system president Terrence Cheng said if the legislature passed the govenror's budget proposal as is, CSCU would would have to compensate for a $335 million budget shortfall by letting go at least 650 full-time employees; eliminating 1,000 part-time staff and adjunct jobs; raising tuition and possibly even closing one or more of CSCU’s 17 campuses.

The immediate impact to students might not be felt for the first six months of the coming academic year, Cheng said. But "students will feel an impact in terms of tuition increases. They would start to feel an impact in terms of reduction of student services, the reduction of course offerings.”

President Cheng said one thing that will not be affected is the Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) program. This program allows eligible Connecticut residents to attend any one of the state's 12 community colleges tuition and fee free.

“My understanding right now is that the PACT funding in the currently proposed budget is at the same level that it was last year,” Cheng said. “That's a positive thing that we're not looking at moving away from a program like PACT, which has been absolutely instrumental to the comeback of our community colleges.”

The Lamont administration said pandemic relief funding Connecticut colleges and universities received from the federal American Plan Rescue Act (ARPA) was a special case, limited time funding arrangement. The administration also said those institutions should have been planning for the day when the funds inevitably ran out. Cheng said CSCU’s budgets have been “flat operationally” for 15 years. And in that time, Cheng said costs have gone up. Particularly, he said, the cost of a state-mandated wage and benefit package, which promises $3,500 bonuses for most state workers, as well as annual wage increases of 2.5%.

“So when we put those dollars together, including ARPA, the past three years,” Cheng said, “you can see from our analysis is that the majority of ARPA was actually utilized to try to meet those costs and those expenses that we are obligated to — primarily driven by those wage and benefits packages.”

Saying “every cause is worthy,”Cheng added he understands there are many different agencies vying for adequate funding in the new state budget. “All we are trying to substantiate is that CSCU has very valid means that we can corroborate with data. And that, ultimately, our impact is exponential.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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