Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Monday her plan to freeze tuition at all state colleges and universities for the upcoming academic year.

The freeze would provide families with a reprieve from constant tuition increases but, according to college administrators, could also weaken the ability of schools to maintain their operating costs. The proposal is part of Rell’s budget package, which will be formally unveiled today.

“It is time to give Connecticut’s families a break from constant tuition increases,” Rell said in a press release. “We can not keep asking our students to pay more, year after year, to obtain the education they need to succeed. The cost of attending our public colleges and universities must remain affordable for young people and their parents.”

The proposal would apply to the University of Connecticut, four state colleges and 12 community-technical colleges, all of which have had tuition increases of over 50 percent in the past decade. The hikes have created burdens for working people seeking to obtain an education, Rell said.

Rell suggested that colleges use unspent reserves to cover annual increases in operating costs.

Without prior plans to increase tuition for next year, the community college system will not be affected by the proposal, a Northwestern Connecticut Community College official said. But administrators at state colleges and the University of Connecticut protested that Rell’s unexpected proposal could reduce the quality of educational services for next year and exhaust financial reserves.

Karen Grava, manager of media communications at the University of Connecticut, said the university planned a 5.6 percent tuition raise from $14,894 to $15,760 in total enrollment cost for next year. Cancelling the hike altogether could strain the school’s budget in the face of anticipated collective bargaining increases and ultimately jeopardize educational quality, Grava said.

“This could be very serious,” Grava said. “We are very concerned about the ramifications of not having a tuition increase and want to be sure that students have the quality of services they’re expecting.”

Of the four state colleges’ $21 million in reserves, over $16 million have already been earmarked for physical improvements, Dean Golembeski, the director of public relations for Connecticut State Universities, said. He said the tuition freeze could too easily exhaust the colleges’ financial reserves, leaving operating costs inadequately covered.

“If the proposal goes through, we would probably be obligated to use one-time, one-shot reserves for operating expenses,” Golembeski said. “It could mean that next year students face a double tuition increase.”

Both Grava and Golembeski questioned the necessity of giving families a financial break, noting that enrollment in state schools has reached an all-time peak and colleges have developed generous financial aid programs.

Grava said she expected the University of Connecticut would attempt to dissuade state legislators from signing the tuition freeze into law. Golembeski said state college administrators would wait for Rell to formally announce her budget package before judging the tuition freeze proposal.

But Adam Liegeot ’94, a spokesman for the governor, said he thought the proposal would be welcomed by families struggling to contend with escalating tuition.

“The bottom line is that holding the line on tuition gives Connecticut families a break,” Liegeot said. “As the governor said, there are a lot of tough decisions and she made the decision that she thinks will benefit families the most.”

But the budget package still has to pass through public hearings in the state legislature, a process that could last until June.

“This is definitely a work in progress,” Liegeot said.

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