An update on state funding for public higher ed

How are American states funding public colleges and universities, ten years after the great financial crisis?  The progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) just published a report with new data that addresses this head on (pdf).

tl;dr version – the Great Recession was brutal.  State funding is still below pre-recession levels.  A few states have recovered; most have not; some are seriously worse.

Here I’ll pull out some of the findings that really struck me.

How far below 2008 are we?  “State spending on higher education at two- and four-year public colleges nationwide fell $1,409 per student, or 16 percent, after adjusting for inflation.”  In other words. the 2008 financial disaster and the slow, weak recovery that followed truly hit American higher ed hard, and we’re still not back to where we were beforehand.

Here’s how that support shortfall breaks down by state:

There are some clear variations by individual states.  An interesting quartet is now ahead of 2008: California, Hawaii, North Dakota, and Wyoming. (The latter two must be buoyed by oil tax revenues, even now) In contrast,

Per-student funding in nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina — fell by more than 30 percent over this period.

Some red states are truly in the red zone (sorry) here.

To account for these drops in funding, many universities and colleges have raised tuition.  “[A]verage annual published tuition has risen by $2,651 nationally, or 36 percent” since 2008.  CBPP also broke down those increases by state:

Notice this underappreciated fact.  After every modern recession students’ share of paying for public tuition has gone up – and usually stayed up, until the next recession:

So perhaps we’re not looking at a long-term crisis response, but at a new normal made possible by 2008.

This is why I spent so much time and space writing about the crash and the decade that followed last month.

I probably don’t need to tell you why and how this is bad for students.  (You can read the report for a breakdown.) The report urges states to rebuild support; I think this is going to be very hard to do.

Go on and read the report.  Very useful stuff.


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3 Responses to An update on state funding for public higher ed

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Maybe I’m looking to literally, but I see Arizona dropping state spending per students 55.7% and Louisiana down 40.6% but tuition per student rising 91.3% and 105.4% respectfully (not for students). What else are students paying for?

    But then you see Pennsylvania spending diving 37.3% but their tuition only goes up 24.7%

    If I was paying tuition I’d want some answers.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      This is where the question of “administration” comes in.

      I put the term in quotes because many people disagree about what it means, either explicitly or implicitly. I’m using it in the financial sense: anyone not working as teaching and/or research faculty is admin. Think presidents and custodians, IT and administrative staff, librarians and mental health professionals.

      That population has been building for a generation, and is now bigger than ever.

      So what good do I get from a big admin, if I’m a student or parent or legislator?
      Depending on the institution, we can make various cases:
      -residential student life
      -tech support
      -mental health help
      -compliance with federal and state regulations (maybe not a good thing for everyone, but understandable at least)
      -expanded research for faculty and students

      Then there’s Benjamin Ginsberg’s argument, which is that administrative growth is mostly parasitical. It is driven by ambitious and greedy folk who are either disinterested in teaching and learning or who just don’t understand it. This drives upper-level admins (deanlets) and their lower-level staff. I find this view is widely held – well, among faculty members. But I haven’t seen much effort to undo that admin growth.

      • Percentage arguments are tricky, since the denominator matters so much. Imagine that state tuition was $1 and the state subsidy was $3. The state subsidy is cut to $2 (-33%) while tuition goes to $2 (+100%). It looks like the movement is unequal, yet the subsidy was cut by $1 while the student’s bill was increased by $1.

        There are lots of other factors that make percentage comparisons misleading, too.

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