States increase higher ed funding, but barely

Gains concentrated in 3 states—and 10 reported decreases

A majority of states increased funding for higher education this fiscal year, but half still spend less than they did five years prior, according to a new report.

Produced by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University (ISU) and the State Higher Education Executives Officers, the Grapevine report examined state higher education appropriations for current budget year compared with previous years'.

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

Researchers found a $4 billion, or 5.2%, increase in higher education spending across the nation for 2015—the third year in a row marking an uptick. However, narrowing the scope to state-by-state basis shows that increases were not spread evenly across the nation.

"It's a tenuous increase," says Jim Palmer, report author and ISU professor. "It's kind of a checkered situation and we expect that checkered situation to continue in some states."

A significant portion of the national increase stems from California, Florida, and Illinois. Remove those three from the equation, and spending in the remaining 47 state rose just 3% since last year. The next highest increase came from Colorado at 14.6%.

This year, 39 states reported an increase in spending, varying from Maine's 0.1% to Illinois' 21.2%, but Illinois is directing that money to public employee retirement plans.

But the outlook is not so rosy everywhere. North Dakota's funding remained the same, and 10 states saw decreases—the largest of which were 2% each by Kentucky and West Virginia.

Public education is not so public anymore, says GAO

Louisiana has seen the worst cuts in the last five years—its spending levels are down 24% from 2010. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has recently proposed another $300 million cut, which college leaders say could mean shuttering campuses.

Meanwhile, the second annual "State Report Cards" published by the Young Invincibles found that 47 states spend less per students then they did before the Great Recession. At the same time, tuition rates at public four-year institutions jumped 28%, more than twice the rate of inflation, between 2007 and 2013.

The organization's analysis, based on higher education and government data, awarded 31 states an "F" in higher education spending and 18 states an "F" in tuition.

"As states turn the page on the Great Recession and their revenue increases, they must invest in higher education and make college more affordable," says Tom Allison, the group's policy and research manager (Diverse Education, 1/15; Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/19; Rivard, Inside Higher Ed, 1/19).

The takeaway: A new report shows a 5% increase in higher education spending nationally, but a closer look reveals the news is not as positive as at first glance.

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