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Policymakers Can Support Higher Ed Access and Affordability


Testifying at today’s Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on higher education, CBPP’s Michael Mitchell explained that deep cuts to state higher education funding in recent years have had dramatic impacts, including steep hikes in tuition and students footing a growing share of the bill. 

State and federal policymakers, Mitchell said, can support the reinvestment in public colleges and universities that’s critical to our economy:

States have cut higher education funding deeply since the start of the recession.  These cuts were in part the result of a revenue collapse caused by the economic downturn, but they also resulted from misguided policy choices.  State policymakers relied heavily on spending cuts to make up for lost revenues.  They could have lessened the need for higher education funding cuts if they had used a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to balance their budgets. . . .

Strengthening state investment in higher education will require state policymakers to make the right tax and budget choices over the coming years.  A slow economic recovery and the need to reinvest in other services that also have been cut deeply mean that many states will need to raise revenue to rebuild their higher education systems.  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 — or even create — the jobs of the future.

Federal policymakers should ensure adequate support for Pell Grants and targeted refundable tax credits to help low-income students access and succeed in higher education, he added. 

He concluded:  

Sufficient funding for higher education to keep tuition affordable and quality high at public colleges and universities, and to provide financial aid to those students who need it most, would help the nation develop the skilled and diverse workforce that is critical to our economic future.

Read the full testimony here.