Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Paying More for College? Blame Government Cuts

By Eric Pianin
May 31, 2016

Amid mounting complaints from parents and students about rising college tuition, staggering student debt and declining quality of education, a new study blames much of the problem on the sharp reduction in state government support for higher education since the 2008 financial crisis and recession.

Nearly eight years of cuts in state funding for public colleges and universities “have driven up tuition and harmed students’ educational experiences by forcing faculty reductions, fewer course offers, and campus closings,” according to a report by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

These budgetary policy choices have made college far less affordable — and less accessible — for millions of students who need undergraduate and graduate degrees to make it in today’s highly competitive economy, according to the report written by the center’s Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman and Kathleen Masterson.

State funding for public two- and four-year colleges and universities is now $8.7 billion below pre-recession levels, after adjusting for inflation, according to the new analysis. Of the 45 states that enacted full higher education budgets for the 2015-2016 academic year, all but four — Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming — are spending less money per student than before the recession began, according to the study.

Average state spending per student is $1,525 for the current year, or 17 percent less than the per-student spending before the onset of the Great Recession. The most glaring examples of declining support for public colleges and universities can be found in Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Funding per student in those states is down by more than 30 percent since the start of the recession.

These cuts have had a ripple effect on public colleges and universities. They have forced those schools to substantially raise tuition and cut back on the size of the faculty, course offerings and extra-curricular activities.


There are many factors that have contributed to this situation. The economic recovery has been uneven throughout the country, and many states had little choice but to cut spending on higher education while addressing shortcomings in state revenues, soaring deficits in state budgets, underfunded public employee pension funds and increased demands for social services and unemployment insurance.

In some cases, however, states opted for major tax cuts for middle and upper-income people to try to stimulate the economy. Those generous tax cuts for the rich had to be offset by reductions in spending on higher education and other important public programs. Those states that cut taxes include Wisconsin, Louisiana, Kansas and Arizona.


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