Whatever happened to America’s state colleges? While public colleges are still cheaper than many private options, in the last three decades tuition at state schools has skyrocketed. Since 1980, the cost of public universities, adjusted for inflation, has tripled.

According to an editorial by Ty Handy in the Northwest Florida Daily News:

Locally, the University of West Florida’s undergraduate full-time tuition and fees were $4,155 last year, one of the lowest in Florida’s university system, while Northwest Florida State College charged $2,272, the lowest of any college in the state.

A report released June 30 by the U.S. Department of Education showed that NWFSC tuition and fees were also among the lowest in the entire country — with the college reported as the 25th lowest cost nationwide of all public four-year colleges and universities.

The primary reasons for the less expensive options in Northwest Florida are first, a level of public funding from the state that allows the colleges to charge students less, and second, local governing board expectations that costs be prudently controlled. The end result is that local residents have affordable options relative to the rest of the country.

But if Florida is doing better than the rest of the country, it’s not doing as well as it used to be. According to the article, “in 2006, student tuition and fees covered 28 percent of the cost of attendance at a Florida public college…. In 2011-12, student tuition and fees will account for 45 percent of the cost of attendance.”

This change is pretty simple; it’s called privatization. Why are states doing this? While the importance of college attendance is now a pretty common part of any discussion of education—“improved lives… result from a more highly educated population”—Handy writes, no one has ever demonstrated that making students pay more of their own money to access higher education improves anything.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer