Senior Policy Analyst
Program Director, State Policy Fellowship Program
High-quality, affordable public colleges and universities are critical to a state’s ability to build the skilled workforce it needs to attract businesses and compete for the jobs of the future. Yet, as I note on Real Clear Policy’s blog today, recent state funding cuts have driven up tuition and, in some cases, lowered the quality of education that students receive at our public colleges and universities.
As I explain:
[T]he average state has cut per-student spending by 20 percent since 2008, at the onset of the Great Recession. That’s a cut of about $1,800 per student [in inflation-adjusted dollars].
Many states made modest progress this year in restoring the cuts they made during and after the recession. But those increases were slight, averaging just 3.9 percent nationally. That's not nearly enough to rebuild from the deep cuts that followed the recession. . . .
Many of these cuts have come at the expense of the schools’ central mission. Schools have eliminated faculty positions, cut courses or increased class sizes, and in some cases consolidated or eliminated whole programs or departments.
Schools have also raised tuition in response to the cuts. Annual published tuition (the so-called “sticker price”) at four-year public colleges is up $2,068, or 29 percent, adjusted for inflation, since the 2007-08 school year. That may put college out of reach for more lower-income students and add to the debt burden of many others, making it tougher for them to attend grad school, buy homes, or even start businesses of their own.
These trends should give policymakers pause. And to undo years of damaging cuts, many states will need to rethink their current budget and tax priorities, I explain:
Some states have opted to enact costly tax breaks for the wealthy or large corporations rather than boost their investments in higher education. These tax cuts are often sold as a recipe for economic growth. But tax cuts can prevent investments in higher education that increase access to college, improve graduation rates, and reduce student debt, causing the economy to suffer in the long run.