HARTFORD, Conn. ― The leaders of Connecticut’s public colleges and universities asked lawmakers Wednesday to spare their schools major budget cuts, warning that more reductions could mean the elimination of academic and athletic programs and even shuttering some campuses.
UConn President Susan Herbst and Mark Ojakian, president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, testified before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, which is grappling with how to handle a state budget shortfall of about $500 million for the next fiscal year. UConn bused in students for the hearing.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed 5.75 percent cuts in direct state funding to the schools. Herbst said that would mean a $31.4 million cut to UConn and its health system, bringing reductions over the last seven years to $139 million and wiping out revenue generated by recent tuition hikes.
The 17 institutions that make up the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system would see a $26 million cut.
“My fear is that this cycle will grow worse, resulting in a shrinking faculty, the closure of academic programs or departments or even entire schools,” Herbst said. “It could mean closing regional campuses, significantly reducing financial aid and cutting sports, among other possibilities.”
She argued that the school has a $3.4 billion positive economic impact on the state and is “one of the most important tools Connecticut has to help build its economic future.”
State funding provides about 30 percent of UConn’s budget and about 40 percent in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system.
Ojakian said the universities and community colleges in his system have already reduced library services, eliminated many full-time faculty positions, cut career counseling and eliminated many weekend classes for working students.
“Cuts could lead to larger class sizes, reduced time or no time for individual instruction or advising and fewer if any office hours available for students,” he said.
Lawmakers expressed sympathy and support for the schools. But state Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, told Ojakian that deep cuts may be inevitable.
“We have reached that point in fiscal reality where we simply don’t have money,” he said. “It’s not a judgment on whether we should invest in this.”