How States Stopped Funding Higher Education

The Great Recession was pretty terrible for higher education. In state after state legislatures cut funding for public colleges. The economy has recovered, but the damage is permanent, particularly for poor students.

According to this piece at Inside Higher Ed:

A new report from the Center for American Progress details — on a state-by-state basis — the extent to which recession-driven reductions in public college financing since 2008 have sent tuitions soaring, and how disproportionately low- and middle-income students and the institutions that serve them have been affected.

Between 2008 and 2012, 29 of the 50 states decreased their direct funding of public colleges and universities, with seven of them dropping by more than 20 percent in constant dollars. (Three states increased their spending by more than 20 percent.)

Because public college enrollments grew significantly during this period, the state funding per student dropped more significantly, with declines of more than 20 percent in 20 states and dips of between 5 and 20 percent in 18 others, as seen in the map below.

What happens with these funding declines is that colleges hike tuition and reduce scholarships, forcing students to pay more and more to get a college education.

But the higher costs aren’t spread out evenly. According to the report, in states that reduced spending, “low-income students pay 18 percent more than the national average at community colleges and 14 percent more than average at public universities.” It’s worse to be poor college student in some states than in others.

An additional problem is that even restoring the funding, which many states are doing now, won’t immediately help low income students. The report argues that legislatures would restore funding to flagship universities and pay for research and infrastructure first. Providing more money to help the poor is unlikely to be a priority.

It’s worth pointing out that this trend has been going on for much, much longer than the last recession. Colleges have been getting less money from the state for decades before the 2008 recession. And college tuition has been souring beyond the rate of inflation since the 1950s.

Read the report here.

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