Potential $500 housing fee increase
UConn administrators cite maintenance costs for residence halls as cause
University of Connecticut administrators recently announced a plan to increase housing fees by up to 6.5 percent - a plan that's elicited backlash from the Undergraduate Student Government.
According to UConn's vice president of student affairs, Michael Gilbert, the increase - which translates to about $500 per student - would cover deferred maintenance costs for the university's residence halls.
"We have a very large housing program," Gilbert said. "Our physical assets, our housing assets, are nearly half the university's facilities. Many of them are older, and I'm very concerned that we're falling behind on doing sufficient maintenance to keep them in good order."
Gilbert proposed the increase at the student fee town hall hearing last week with Executive Vice President for Administration Richard Gray and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Mun Choi where it garnered the attention of USG office holders.
In response to the proposal, the USG Senate passed a resolution at its Wednesday meeting opposing the fee hike. The resolution alleges the administrators did not provide significant justification for the rate increase.
USG Senator Kevin Alvarez, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said in an interview Monday said he wanted the administration to look into other funding options before choosing to impose the cost on students.
"We did not feel there was sufficient information provided or even brought into making this decision to justify this increase, particularly one of this size," he said.
The resolution also suggests the administrators failed to factor in the $1.5 billion Next Generation Connecticut fund as a source of revenue to help cover some of the proposed renovation costs.
NextGen is a bond package from the state legislature meant to fund capital projects to expand UConn's science, technology, math and engineering programs. On the NextGen website - uconn.edu/nextgenct - it does include "deferred maintenance" as a line item the funds can be spent on, though it is unclear exactly what it refers to.
In an interview Wednesday, Gilbert said NextGen funds have been allocated to build new dorms on UConn's Stamford Campus and build up technology and science labs on campus - but not to renovate existing dorms in Storrs.
He said 2 to 3 percent of the increase is meant to cover standard cost increases that are addressed every year - including inflation, wage increases for residence hall staff and maintenance and rising costs of providing health care to those employees (called fringe benefits). Gilbert said this increase is based on guidance by the university's budget office, which communicates with state government officials to determine the foreseeable cost increases.
The other 3.5 to 4.5 percent increase is meant to cover a laundry list of "capital priorities," totaling $19,040,000. These include renovating bathrooms, installing a generator in Residential Life facilities to keep power on "during emergencies" and repairing roofs and decks at Hilltop Apartments. These projects were laid out by a team that included Residential Life members, according to Gilbert.
Student Body President Edward Courchaine said USG would be reasonable about its demands, but he did not yet see a reason to let rates climb by 6 percent.
"It's not that the entire 6 percent is unjustifiable," Courachine said, acknowledging adjusting for inflation and fringe benefits is necessary. "There's always going to be an increase, but 3 percent would be a realistic expectation."
Once factor both Gilbert and the student government are concerned with is where there fee increase will put UConn in relation to its peers. With the university's affordability already in question by the state legislature, many feel increasing attendance costs should be taken with extreme caution.
According to data gathered by the administrators who proposed the housing rate increase, UConn currently ranks ninth out of the 12 peer institutions it was compared to - with one being the most expensive - in terms of rent for a double room. It's in the bottom quartile for single rooms as well, though Gilbert said it fares somewhere in the middle of the pack for apartment and suite rates.
The administrators are planning to bring the proposed rate increase to the Board of Trustees for approval at its Feb. 26 meeting. The resolution passed by the USG Senate calls for the board to deny the request, and asks the UConn Student Fee Advisory Committee - which includes undergraduate and graduate student representatives - to continue investigating the need for a rate increase.
"The student body opposes any housing rate increase at this time, until the (administration has) taken steps to ensure that the University of Connecticut exercises fiscal responsibility before passing a large economic burden onto the students of this school," the legislation reads.
USG Vice President Kara Googins said Gilbert plans to meet with USG members next week regarding the proposed fee increase.
Correction: an earlier version of this article stated the Next Generation Connecticut fund totaled $2.5 billion. The actual amount is $1.5 billion.
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