• September 2, 2014

Conn. and Mass. Governors Propose Big Spending Increases for Higher Education

The governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts are each calling for major increases in higher-education spending. But they are taking very different approaches toward what to spend the money on and how to pay for it.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is proposing to borrow $1.5-billion over 10 years to pay for an ambitious expansion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs at the three campuses of the University of Connecticut.

The state's General Assembly and Bond Commission have yet to consider the bond issue, which would be used in part for new and renovated buildings, as is usually the case with borrowed dollars. In addition to upgrading the university's laboratories and classrooms, the university would have to build new housing to accommodate a planned enrollment increase of 6,580 undergraduates, nearly 30 percent more than are currently enrolled.

But the bond money would also pay for regular operating expenses, such as the salaries of an additional 259 faculty members and scholarships for undergraduates in a new honors program for the STEM fields.

Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut, said the amount of money is "almost unprecedented" and shows that the governor believes in higher education as the key to the state's economic future.

At the same time, there are high expectations that the new cash will create jobs and long-term investment in Connecticut, and help the university become less reliant on state money.

The university projects that sponsored research from federal and private sources will increase by $270-million during the next decade and will expand business activity in the state by a half-billion dollars. The overall package is projected to create more than 30,000 new jobs related mostly to construction of new facilities.

In addition to increases in sponsored research, Ms. Herbst said the university would have to focus more on philanthropy and revenue from new patents and start-up companies because the typical state appropriations are not going to rise.

State money for higher education in Connecticut has already fallen by 7.5 percent since the 2008 fiscal year, according to figures from the annual Grapevine survey of state higher-education spending.

Massachusetts Money

In the Bay State, spending on higher education has declined by more than 22 percent over the same period. But this year, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is proposing to more than triple the amount of student financial aid the state provides through the MassGrant program and increase appropriations to the University of Massachusetts system by nearly 8 percent, or nearly $35-million. The state's community colleges would get a nearly 10-percent boost in appropriations, or about $20-million.

Governor Patrick's plan, however, takes a politically risky path by relying on nearly $2-billion in tax increases, including a 19-percent jump in income taxes.

In addition to improving the affordability of college for low-income students, much of the money will probably be used to expand the number of full-time faculty members in the university system, said Richard M. Freeland, commissioner of the state's Department of Higher Education.

The increase in next year's proposed budget is just a "downpayment" since the governor has called for an even larger expansion in education spending in future years, Mr. Freeland said.

It's a big step in a state where private colleges have historically overshadowed public ones, he said.

"With our rich array of private institutions," he said, "there has always been some undercurrent of belief that Massachusetts does not need to make the same investment in public higher education that other states have made."

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