UConn suspends free tuition program for low-income students

STORRS, Conn (AP) — The University of Connecticut is suspending a new free-tuition program for lower-income students as it struggles to raise private funds during the pandemic.

The university is halting scholarships through its Connecticut Commitment program, meant for students from families who make less than $50,000 a year, University President Thomas Katsouleas told the UConn Board of Trustees on Wednesday. It will honor commitments to the 260 students currently receiving aid.

“Pausing the program is the hardest decision I’ve had to make since arriving here,” said Katsouleas, who announced the Connecticut Commitment program at his inauguration in 2019. “While unfortunate and regrettable, I believe that this is a prudent and necessary choice to make at this time."

The program makes up the difference between the cost of tuition and other aid that students receive, including federal Pell Grants. The students currently in the program receive an average grant of about $2,600 per year.

Katsouleas said the school estimates it will spend about $700,000 this year on the scholarships. He noted that costs would have increased with each additional class to a total of about $5 million annually by the fourth year. The pandemic is expected to increase the number of students who would qualify for the program.

The school faces a budget deficit estimated at $76 million and has asked the state for about $28 million in additional aid. The scholarship program was designed to be funded solely through philanthropy, but Katsouleas said the school won't raise enough money to cover the full costs over the next four years.

UConn will continue fundraising and will update trustees later this academic year to determine whether resuming the program during the 2022 fiscal year is feasible, Katsouleas said.