States continue making deep cuts to higher ed, passing costs on to students


A new study from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities shows that more than half of states continue to make deep cuts to higher education funding, causing colleges and universities to pass those cuts on to students in the form of tuition hikes and service cuts. Nationwide, states are on average spending 28% less this year than they did in 2008, a decrease of $2,353 per student.

3-19-13sfp-IBL36 states have cut funding by more than 20%, with eleven states cutting funding by more than one-third. Two states — Arizona and New Hampshire — have cut their higher education spending in half. Just last week, Arizona universities announced another 3-5% tuition hike. Since 2007, tuition at Arizona universities has risen more approximately 90%. The report shows that in addition to all this, Arizona’s university system cut more than 2,100 positions; consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs, and departments; and closed eight extension campuses.

According to the report, while many of these cuts came in response to the extreme budget compression coming out of the 2008 crisis, their effects may last much longer than that as officials look for ways to repair the damage to schools caused by the cuts. Those repairs, may end up costing more over the long term, had states opted instead to find ways to maintain higher education funding.

Report data shows that average annual tuition at four-year public colleges has grown by $1,850, or 27%, since the 2007-08 school year when adjusted for inflation. Many public colleges come close to $10,000 per year in tuition before room and board, while others still get close to that number inclusive of room and board. In seven states — Arizona, California, Florida, Washington, Georgia, Hawaii, and Alabama — average tuition has increased by more than 50%. Some states like Florida have proposed a $10,000 total cost college degree, instead of a $10,000 yearly tuition rate, although no state has been successful in making it happen yet.

Colleges and universities are making cuts too in response to having smaller funding pools to work with even with tuition increases, which often just fill holes instead of making room for improvement. These cuts mean fewer faculty positions, limited course offerings and cuts to helpful services like post graduate career placement.

Tuition increases at rates of 90% inside of six years also mean the cost of public education has quickly exceeded the resources of many middle class families, and made higher education virtually impossible for low income students who fail to qualify for financial aid or scholarships. Report authors note that, between 1991 and 2011, median household income grew by about 3% while the cost of a four-year public college grew by 159%. Even with grants and tax benefits, the cost of college grew by 58% in real terms, well above the rate of growth in household income.

This is especially problematic as now even low level jobs that previously didn’t require a college degree, like service, administrative or trade positions, now do. Bachelor’s degrees are required for jobs ranging from file clerk to retail associate. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018, 62% of all jobs will require at least some college education. That is an increase from 59% in 2007, 56% in 1992, and 28% in 1973. Georgetown Center data in the report shows that the nation’s education system will not be able to keep up with the demand for college graduates and based on their projections through 2018, the education system will produce 3 million fewer college graduates than demanded by the private sector. Report authors say that this trend may make it increasingly difficult for lower and middle class people to move up or even maintain a standard of living.

“While debt is a crucial tool for financing higher education, excessive debt can impose considerable costs on both students and society as a whole. Research finds that higher student debt levels are associated with lower rates of home ownership among young adults; can create stresses that reduce the probability of graduation, particularly for students from lower-income families; and reduce the likelihood that graduates with majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will go on to graduate school.

“This research suggests that states should strive to expand college access and increase college graduation rates to help build a strong middle class and develop the skilled workforce needed to compete in today’s global economy. It suggests further that the severe higher education funding cuts that states have made since the start of the recession will make it harder to achieve those goals,” report authors write.

Even if they can afford it, spots in some of the nation’s largest pubic university systems aren’t available. The report shows that, California’s community colleges have cut enrollment by 485,000 students or about 17%, cut course offerings by 15% resulting in hundreds of thousands of students being denied access to classes, increased class sizes, laid off faculty and staff, and instituted furloughs. Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, and New Hampshire also showed cuts in allowed class size and teaching positions.

The report calls on state legislatures to avoid making further tax cuts at the expense of an already weak national education system and begin working on a path toward reinvestment and reconstruction. “At the very least, states must avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder for them to invest in higher education, strengthen the skills of their workforce, and compete for the jobs of the future,” authors write.