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State Funding Cuts Making College Less Affordable

Public colleges and universities are becoming less affordable for millions of young people, and declining state support is a big reason why.

That is the conclusion of the College Board’s latest survey on college prices.  The in-state cost of attending a public four-year college has outpaced inflation over the past five years, the report finds, even as families’ incomes have fallen.

The College Board report highlights the connection between rising college prices and lagging state funding for higher education.  As

, the vast majority of states have cut higher education funding since the onset of the recession, and subsequently many state university systems made significant tuition increases.  To cite a few examples:
  • California has cut support for the University of California system by 27 percent since 2008; tuition has grown by more than 80 percent over the past four years.
  • Colorado cut state university spending by 11.5 percent this year, and tuition increased significantly statewide.  The University of Colorado at Boulder, for example, increased in-state tuition by 9 percent.
  • Ohio cut higher education funding by 10 percent this year; public university tuition increased by 7 percent.
  • Nevada reduced funding for the state’s higher education system by 15 percent in its latest budget; undergraduate tuition rose 13 percent.

Higher education is suffering the same fate as other state services essential to building a strong economy.  In almost every state, the economic downturn opened up gaps between public needs and the resources available to meet them.  Unfortunately, far too many states chose to rely on budget cuts alone to address their shortfalls this past year, resulting in much larger cuts to services than would otherwise occur.

Projections are that an increasing share of future jobs will require at least some higher education.  Making college less affordable not only limits young people’s opportunities for professional advancement, but also makes it harder to develop the highly skilled workforce that states need to attract businesses and compete globally.