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The Lasting Effects of State Higher Ed Cuts

Almost all states continue to fund higher education well below pre-recession levels, as I explained yesterday and we describe in a new paper.  These lower funding levels mean that colleges and universities have generally cut educational or other services, raised tuition to cover the gap, or both — steps that may diminish education quality at a time when a highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever to the nation’s economic future.

Indeed, since the recession, higher education institutions have:

  • Raised tuition.  Public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition to compensate for declining state funding and rising costs.  Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation.  Average tuition at public four-year institutions, adjusted for inflation, has increased by more than 60 percent in six states, more than 40 percent in ten states, and more than 20 percent in 29 states.  In Arizona, tuition at four-year schools is up more than 80 percent (see chart).
  • Cut spending, often in ways that may diminish access and quality and jeopardize outcomes.  Tuition increases have compensated for only part of the state funding cuts.  Public colleges and universities have cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut computer labs, and reduced library services, among other cuts.  For example, since 2008, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has eliminated 493 positions, cut 16,000 course seats, increased class sizes, cut its centrally supported computer labs from seven to three, and eliminated two distance education centers.

Over the past year, as states have started to restore funding for public higher education, tuition hikes have been much smaller than in recent years.  Tuition at public four-year institutions rose in 38 states in the 2013-14 school year, but the average across all states was a modest $120 or 1.4 percent after inflation.