Federal government should compel states to increase funding, say public education leaders

Economic development is the 'buzzword' that spurs action, argues one college president

Advocates are urging the federal government to compel states to increase higher education funding, reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

Funding crunch in the states

Since the recession, 48 states have cut funding for higher education by an average of 23%, according to the independent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The states that have cut funding the most are also among the poorest and have the greatest need for investment, say education advocates.

Poorest states make biggest cuts to higher ed, signal national trend

The cuts have led to rising tuition and staffing reductions—just as the federal government is pushing colleges to expand enrollments and broaden access.

At a strategy conference last week in Louisiana, representatives from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education debated the role of public higher-education universities moving forward.

"We're just trying to get the federal government to realize that this great diversity is going to be over, because we won't have state universities in 50 years," says F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of Louisiana State University.

From fiscal years 2009-14, Louisiana cut funding to higher education by 34.4%, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. To address the issue in Louisiana and elsewhere, Alexander argues the government should make some of the $180 billion a year in federal financial aid for higher education conditional on expanded investment at the state level.

Arguing for economic impact

Alexander points out that the federal government has given conditions to funding before. During the recession, the federal government gave stimulus funding to the states—but on the condition that they maintain their levels of education spending.

One state increased higher ed funding by 60%. Here's why.

More broadly, education advocates say they need to do a better job of connecting investment in education to economic health. Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana System, told attendees at the conference that "economic development was the buzzword" that helped modestly reverse some of the education cuts in Louisiana recently.

The state increased higher education funding by 6% this year, in part because of plans to steer the money toward programs in engineering, computer science, and accounting—all high-demand job markets in the state.

Woodley says the message for education advocates is simple: "In higher education we need to be more sensitive and responsive to the concerns that happen in our economy and in our workforce" (Marcus, Hechinger Report, 12/3; Center for the Study of Education Policy report, last accessed 12/5).

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