The Real Problem

States are spending less money on public colleges than they did in the past. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjusted for inflation, state support for public colleges and universities has fallen by about 26 percent per full-time student in the last 20 years.

But this decline in funding hasn’t resulted in cost cutting. It’s increasingly students, and their parents, who are now funding college, largely through debt. Over the last 20 years, meanwhile, tuition at American public colleges and universities has increased 116 percent.

This is according to a report recently released by Demos, a think tank in New York.

The Demos report indicates that, though state funding for colleges “increased by $10.5 billion in absolute terms from 1990 to 2010, in relative terms state funding of higher education declined.”

It’s not really clear why this happened, at least from the report, but the paper suggests that continuing to divest in higher education could have disastrous consequences.

Failing to fund public colleges, Demos says, “threatens not just the future well-being of individual students, but also… the future economic health of states, as insufficient financial support contributes to low rates of college completion, depriving states of the educated workforces needed to thrive in the 21st century economy,” Demos explains.

The report recommends changing state tax policies to provide a consistent funding stream for public universities and says that “states leaders should align investments in higher education with the goal of completion.”

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Daniel Luzer

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