Some important new data just appeared about higher ed financing.
tl;dr version: there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is: nearly all American states spent more on public higher ed last year than they did the year before.
The bad news: that’s still way below what states spent in 2008, when the greatest financial crisis of our times hit. And that was way below what states used to spend.
Now let me get into the details.
Grapevine concluded that nearly all American states increased public higher ed funding by 5% over last year, and more than 18% compared with five years ago. This increase appeared in absolute dollars and also when measured per capita.
You can see a very positive trend when looking at total American state spending on public higher ed:
There’s a good amount of variability by state. You can see strong regional variations as well, with the south(east) and west really taking off:
Again, those are all increases.
So why is this happening? The Grapevine lead puts it down to macroeconomic growth and a political shift:
“I think this is probably predictable given the state of the economy right now,” [Jim Palmer, the editor of the Grapevine survey and a professor of educational administration and foundations at Illinois State] continued. “In order for states to increase funding for higher education, two things need to happen. First, the states have to have the fiscal capacity to increase funding. And then of course, second, there has to be a political will to increase funding. I think that after several years of tuition increases, there is growing political pressure for states to perhaps increase funding and to counter the trend toward increased tuition.”
Excellent! Then why am I not jubilating?
To begin with, we are still below where things were in 2008. The Great Recession walloped American states, and funding has still not recovered. Full credit to SHEEO for tracking this carefully.
Further, as great as 2008 sounds, that funding level is below where states once were. As Chris Newfield has documented, American state governments spent a generation slashing per-student support from the 1980s on. That Great Mistake, as Chris calls it*, represents one giant step backwards (and a powerful stride towards increasing student debt). The Great Recession represents another big step back. What Grapevine reports about the past year is a very, very tiny step forward. We’ll need a lot more of them.
*I don’t know why they skipped 2016-2017 in this table.
**Let’s see if American states spending $100 billion/year on higher ed becomes a milestone. At this rate it’s next year.
***Chris was also a great Future Trends Forum guest: