Deepest state cuts led to highest tuitions for lower-income students


California has increased certain sales taxes to invest in state schools like the University of California – Berkeley. Photo by Charlie Nguyen.

State funding for higher education isn’t what it used to be. The fact that most public colleges and universities took a significant hit when state revenues fell during the recession is well documented.

Five years into the economic recovery, 31 states have yet to return to funding higher education at the same levels they did in 2007. Even in many states where funding has bounced back, increasing enrollment has kept per-student spending from rising.

A new report from the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress shows that states’ portion of public higher education funding declined from 29.1 percent in 2008 to 22.3 percent in 2012. To make up for that the portion of higher education revenue coming from tuition rose in 47 states through the same period. This trend, too, has been covered extensively.

But the Center for American Progress report also compares what low- and middle-income students are paying in tuition after grants and scholarships are taken into account in states that cut more from higher education budgets to what similar students are paying in states that cut less.

(Center of American Progress)

States’ portion of public higher education funding declined 6.8 perfect from 2008 to 2012. (Center of American Progress)

Low- and middle-income students are paying the most to go to college in states that made the deepest cuts. The report doesn’t look at what wealthier students are paying, but other analysis has shown tuition costs rose more for lower-income students than for their higher-income peers from 2008 to 2012.

The report outlines a plan for the federal government to create incentives to draw states into devoting more money to higher education, especially in the form of tuition support for lower-income students. The more conservative thinkers at the American Enterprise Institute have argued that a return to greater state funding won’t solve higher education’s cost problems. Instead they say public colleges and universities should focus on taking greater advantage of technological and other innovation that can bring costs down.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.