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Better lower tuition for all than free for few

Attention all aspiring students with your eyes on attending the University of Connecticut, your about to hit the jackpot. The school’s incoming 16th president, Thomas Katsouleas, recently announced lower income Connecticut undergraduates will be eligible for free — you head me right, free — tuition.

The magic number is $50,000. If your family makes less than 50K per year, get ready to celebrate and cash in as UConn is making your tuition free. According to the college’s website, here are some of the qualifications to be considered for the "Connecticut’s Commitment Program."

Beginning in the fall of 2020, automatic consideration is given to every freshman and transfer applicant who:

  • Is pursuing their first undergraduate degree
  • Qualifies as an in-state Connecticut resident for UConn undergraduate tuition purposes
  • Completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Institutional Financial Aid Application for Students without Legal Immigration Status by the on-time deadline of February 15 annually
  • Reports a household income (total family income) of $50,000 or less for the calendar year indicated on the designated aid application
  • Is enrolled continuously as a full-time undergraduate student (12 or more credit hours)
  • Maintains compliance with the Financial Aid Satisfactory Academic Progress Guidelines.

On the surface, this "Commitment Plan" appears bulletproof. What type of a monster would criticize a heartfelt altruistic olive branch designed to help the poor. But this plan raises a few questions.

What is the expense to the Connecticut taxpayer? The state’s working class has nothing else to give and should not be expected to contribute anything extra to make this or any other social plan viable. Higher education in Connecticut is allocated $746.5 million from the state’s coffers. That robust number includes UConn’s main and regional campuses, plus the health center, the four schools of the Connecticut State University system, and all the regional community and technical colleges. In addition, the University of Connecticut has a growing endowment of $447 million at its disposal.

If the leadership at this prodigious university can figure out how to give away free educations without impacting taxpayers, I am in no position to oppose. However, history suggests these types of benevolent gestures seemingly always circle back to me and you.

And the plan is not without pitfalls. Aside from the implications that taxpayers may eventually be asked for more, what about families caught in the middle? Families making less than the $50,000 can qualify for free in state tuition at a price of $13,798 per student. Families making more than the minimum are out of luck – which is another example of the hard-working middle classy getting screwed.

Let’s say – and this is a reasonable example -- Mom works 30 hours a week in retail and brings home around $300. Dad swings a sledgehammer for 200 hours a month and brings home just south of $900 a week. This Connecticut couple will break their backs putting in 80 hours a week collectively — only to get ignored by the "Office of Student Finical Aid services” since on paper they’ll make $60,000. Hard work in this case does not pay off.

The most cost-effective solution for this family if they had a child hoping to attend UConn would be for mom to quit her job so they would fall below the threshold, thereby enabling little Johnny or Susie to become Huskies for free. I'm not sure incentivizing people to work less is the correct approach.

And what of the real cost of attending UConn? As mentioned, the cost of in-state tuition is just shy of $14,000 per year. But if you want to fully understand the expenses facing a student, there are also $3,428 in undisclosed fees as well as a whopping $13,238 for room and board. That’s a total of $30,464 — for an in-state student at a university already heavily subsidized by tax dollars.

This is an issue plaguing more than just UConn. Sending a student to Yale would set you back $49,480; Wesleyan $50,912; Quinnipiac $44,920; Conn College $50,940; Sacred Heart University $38,300; Fairfield $46,000, University of Hartford $37,300, and the University of New Haven $37,000. These figures do not include room and board!

Why does it cost so much to send kids to college? Administrative and faculty salaries and benefits have skyrocketed. The cost of a college education is outrageous. The students and their families are the ones who suffer. We are looking for solutions in the wrong place. Freebees and gimmicks are a heartwarming headline, but we should be demanding state-funded schools lower costs for all in-state students.

Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.



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