Students at Connecticut's flagship university will pay 2.5 percent more in tuition, fees and lodging starting this fall under a plan approved Wednesday.
The University of Connecticut's board of trustees approved the increase on a vote that was unanimous with the exception of student member Corey Schmitt, who advocated unsuccessfully for a 5 percent increase instead.
Schmitt and two other student leaders say they worry money woes might hurt UConn's services to its 30,000 current students and dampen its allure to potential students.
The trustees' work on tuition might not have ended with Wednesday's vote, though. UConn needs to fill an anticipated $45 million hole in the 2011-12 budget, and trustees warned they might have to review tuition again in June if spending cuts cannot be found.
That would be "a most unusual step," trustee Peter Drotch said, though still possible depending on the General Assembly's decision this spring on how much to give UConn in state funds.
"The fiscal issues for the university will remain pretty significant," Drotch said.
Schmitt, a political science student from Manchester, and students representing the undergraduate and graduate student governments said they appreciated the spirit behind adopting the 2.5 percent increase rather than a higher amount.
However, they worry the trade-off might be larger class sizes, fewer classes available and cuts in library hours, campus transportation and other services. Schmitt, for example, said he already commutes to UConn's Hartford campus every few days for a biology class because classes at Storrs were filled.
"I still believe (the 2.5 percent) is not going to sustain us the way we need to. The cuts that we've seen over the past few years have been relatively small compared to what we're going to be seeing in the future," said Rich Colon, an anthropology student from Stratford and president of the Graduate Student Senate.
The 2.5 percent increase is the smallest in six years, adding $518 to in-state undergraduate bills and $950 for out-of-state undergraduates. It brings annual tuition, room and board to $21,486 for Connecticut residents and $38,382 for out-of-state students.
By comparison, in-state students at the University of Massachusetts are charged $21,431 annually.
At the University of Rhode Island, the yearly cost of tuition, lodging and fees is about $21,688 for in-state students. The universities of Vermont and New Hampshire charge their in-state students $23,760 and $23,454, respectively, while the University of Maine's yearly tally is $18,934.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget would cut UConn's state funding by 10 percent, or about $35 million. UConn officials say they need to cut $45 million from the 2011-12 budget, both to accommodate that lower state allocation and absorb other costs.
UConn board of trustees member Thomas Ritter, a former speaker of the Connecticut state House of Representatives, said UConn's belt-tightening is an example to others of "shared sacrifice," a widely quoted mantra of Malloy's budget discussions.
"The eyes are really on us today," Ritter said Wednesday. "The state really, for the first time in a long time, has asked us to really work with them in recognition for all they've done for us. It is so important that we get the trend going in the right direction for them."
The university has about 17 students for every 1 teaching faculty member, but has been trying to bump that ratio down to 15 to 1.
UConn Provost Peter Nicholls said Wednesday that although some class sizes might increase next year because of the budget conditions, he expects the impact to be "very limited" and that they make special efforts to avoid large classes in writing courses and science labs.
However, they don't expect to make progress toward reducing that ratio in the near future.