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2010 May 17 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Conn. Governor Candidates Tackle Higher Ed Funding

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Everything from a tuition freeze to reducing state university administration costs are among the ideas being floated by gubernatorial candidates as ways to make higher education in Connecticut more affordable.

Eleven candidates — seven Republicans and four Democrats — recently faced off at two back-to-back debates sponsored by the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association.

The political match-ups, held at the UConn School of Law, came as students at UConn, the four state universities and community colleges face tuition and fee increases, ranging from 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent for the 2010-11 academic year. The increases have been partially blamed on cuts in state higher education spending, as Connecticut grapples with budget deficits.

“If we make it unaffordable, it really flies in the face of the mission,” said former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, who is vying for the Democratic nomination for governor. “Any increases in tuition need to be matched by increases in support for those who otherwise can’t afford those tuition increases.”

During the event, Republicans debated one another first, followed by the Democrats. Many of the same questions were asked of both groups.

The governor’s race appears to be wide open since Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, announced in November she was not seeking re-election. Both parties are scheduled to choose nominees May 22.

When asked how Connecticut can keep state colleges and universities affordable while maintaining quality programs, Republican R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, the president of a Hartford-area economic development organization, suggested looking at merging the administrations of the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State University system.

“As a layman looking at it, why do we have five presidents?” asked Griebel, following the debate. “You’ve got to prove to me, why do we need to have all of this multiple stuff?”

Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, a Democrat and a graduate of the UConn Law School, said it’s time for Connecticut to elect its first UConn graduate, someone who understands the need for an affordable state university education.

She said the next governor also needs to understand that Connecticut’s colleges and universities can help the state recover from the economic downturn.

“I think it’s time that we have a governor who understands the value of education and sees our higher ed institutions, our vo-tech schools, our community colleges and our education institutions as being the economic engine for future growth,” said Glassman, who called for a tuition freeze.

Corey Schmitt, the student member of UConn’s Board of Trustees, said it’s unfortunate that next fiscal year will mark the first time the student financial share of a UConn education will be larger than the state’s share.

He said students are concerned that higher education funding has been used to help cover the state’s series of budget deficits.

“We’re the largest state institution, and it’s just constant sweeping of our reserve funds,” Schmitt said. “The state is really not living up to the potential in their initial promise of us being a public institution, a public school.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican candidate, suggested scaling back the benefits packages UConn and CSU staff now receive, as a way to cut costs. He also suggested leasing out state college and university buildings to generate revenue.

Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, a Republican, said Connecticut should look to other states and see if there are ways to “to do the same for less,” while Democrat Juan Figueroa, a health care advocate, suggested free community college tuition for high school students with at least a B-plus average.

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