The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees sent an early message last week to the next governor and legislature. The state will need to significantly step up spending on its flagship university — and Next Generation sci-tech initiative— to maintain UConn’s development into an elite research institution.
The trustees unanimously requested operating block grants of $234 million and $270 million, respectively, for the first two fiscal years of the next term, to cover the main campus on Storrs and the regional campuses. The first number represents a 23 percent increase — or $44 million — over the block grant UConn received this fiscal year. By the second year, the university is seeking 41.5 percent, or $79 million, more than the block grant it receives now.
The university already has had to slow its pace for Next Generation Connecticut, the initiative it launched with Malloy in 2013 to dramatically expand educational opportunities and research in science, technology, engineering, and math over the next decade.
With an original goal of adding more than 6,500 students —primarily spread between Storrs and the Stamford regional campus— the ambitious plan also included a $2.4 billion capital building component to increase dormitory, classroom and laboratory space. But after that initiative was launched, state finances went into a tailspin as Connecticut’s recovery from the last recession continued to trail that of most other states.
State finances closed modestly in deficit for three consecutive years between 2015 and 2017. Next Generation has added closer to 2,500 students and operating funds for that program within the UConn budget are slightly below 2016 levels now. About $18 million of the extra funds UConn is seeking next fiscal year, and $21 million in 2020-21, would be needed just to get the Next Generation program back to its scaled-back, 2016 level.
Though the next governor’s first budget proposal is due to the General Assembly in February, all state agencies and public colleges and universities routinely submit preliminary requests between the prior August and October. And university officials noted there are many fiscal forces working against UConn in the next two years.
Keith M. Phaneuf (ctmirror.org)