Malloy seeks cuts to scholarships

Connecticut students who attend some of the state’s top colleges, including Yale, may lose access to state-funded scholarships as part of the budget cuts Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed Tuesday.

Malloy, who testified before the General Assembly’s Education Committee on Tuesday evening, is seeking to cut $6.7 million in funding from the Connecticut Independent College Student Grant program (CICS), which provides need-based scholarships to Connecticut students attending in-state private colleges. Last year CICS awarded funding to more than 5,400 students at 16 different schools, and Malloy is proposing to cut off funding that supports students attending schools with endowments greater than $200 million. Though University President Richard Levin said the proposed cuts will not have a large impact on Yale’s financial aid, other presidents of Connecticut private colleges said the cuts could change their admissions outcomes.

“Yale actually receives very little from [CICS],” Levin said. “I think it’s an important program for many private institutions in the state, but its impact on Yale is not significant.”

Under Malloy’s proposal, six Connecticut schools would lose CICS eligibility, including Yale, whose endowment is valued at $16.5 billion. Other in-state schools with endowments exceeding $200 million include Wesleyan University, Connecticut College, Trinity, Quinnipiac University and Fairfield University.

Malloy has made state education reform a top legislative priority for the upcoming year. In a Jan. 26 press release, the governor said he will propose legislation “potent enough to make Connecticut a national leader in narrowing the achievement gap, and comprehensive enough to set the stage for a restoration of Connecticut as a model of creating academic excellence for all.”

The proposed $200 million endowment cutoff for CICS eligibility is a close margin for some colleges, including Connecticut College with its $212 million endowment, Fairfield University with $254 million and Quinnipiac University with $277 million. And while Malloy has stressed the importance of closing the achievement gap in K-12 schools, legislators at the General Assembly hearing Tuesday evening cautioned against adopting policies that could prevent students from low-income families from attending the state’s top colleges.

Because most of the colleges and universities Malloy’s plan targets employ “need-aware” admissions decisions — meaning admissions officers consider financial aid needs when determining which applicants to accept — the cuts threaten to pressure schools that rely on CICS scholarships to accept fewer students with significant financial need.

“We think the proposed funding cut, if enacted, will have a serious impact,” said Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, a non-profit higher education advocacy organization that represents 16 colleges and universities in the state, including Yale. “It could affect application decisions, and I think it will more likely affect admissions decisions.”

Greiman explained that despite having relatively large endowments, the colleges and universities affected by Malloy’s plan have already leveraged their financial aid resources to their limits. She said endowments are not “just big pots of cash” schools can tap into, but are subject to many laws and regulations governing how much funding universities can withdraw at a given time. Greiman added that since 2008, many higher education institutions have had to “vastly increase” aid to college applicants and current students as their families’ economic situations worsened during the recession.

Amy Martin, spokeswoman for Connecticut College, said the school has increased its financial aid budget by 25 percent since 2009. Students receiving financial aid at the college use a combination of university aid, federal funding and CICS grants to pay the $54,970 yearly fee for tuition and room and board. At Connecticut College, 142 students receive CICS funding totaling $399,000 annually. At Fairfield University, 272 students — 8 percent of the school’s student body — are on CICS funding. This funding could disappear under Malloy’s proposal.

“Financial aid is a serious concern for Connecticut families,” Martin said. “All colleges have limited resources, and the CICS grants can make a difference [in] whether students in the state can get into private schools or not.”

CICS scholarships average $4,000, but a maximum grant of over $8,100 is available depending on a student’s financial need. The same scholarship program was cut last year under Malloy’s budget from $23 million to the current level of $18 million. The governor’s proposed cuts would bring program funding down further to $11.3 million.

Greiman added that it is unclear what legislative hurdles Malloy’s proposal will face in the state General Assembly. She said she has heard from “several key legislators” that they did not enjoy making the financial aid cuts last year, when the state faced “more dire economic problems.” The state passed a highly contentious two-year budget of $41.1 billion in May 2011, which included the largest single tax increase in state history. The budget faced an initial $3.5 billion deficit, triggering the layoffs of more than 4,700 state employees.

Across the state, some college and university presidents, state legislators and students are working to defeat Malloy’s proposal. In a letter from Fairfield University President Jeffery von Arx to Malloy, von Arx said the proposed cuts would affect the state in “a dramatic fashion.”

“Due to the weakened economy, there are more students in need of CICS grant support today as a result of job loss, investment loss and lowered income in the family,” von Arx said. “If students do not receive CICS funding next year, many may not enroll in a college or may attend college out of state.”

As evidence of the program’s success, von Arx said 29 of 30 CICS-funded seniors graduated from Fairfield last year with GPAs above the class average.

Yale Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi could not be reached for comment on how many undergraduates currently receive CICS funding.

The CICS program was established in 1983.

Correction: Feb. 23 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of students enrolled at Connecticut College who receive CICS funding. The college currently has 142 students who receive CICS funding.

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