Report: Only two states fund higher ed at pre-recession levels

Louisiana, Alabama cut spending the most

About 95% of states spend less on public higher education than they did before 2008, according to the third annual report from advocacy group Young Invincibles.

The State Report Cards award a grade to each state based on more than 40 metrics, such as tuition, budget appropriates, family cost burden, direct financial aid, and attainment gaps. Just one state, Wyoming, received an A. Nineteen earned Fs.

Researchers found that from fiscal years 2008 to 2014, the share of college costs families cover grew on average from 36% to 50% as a result of falling state support and rising tuition. But looking at the national rate hides variations among the states: in Maine families cover 82% of costs, while in Wyoming they're responsible for just 15%.

During the studied time period, the largest cuts to higher ed came in:

1. Louisiana (41% decrease);
2. Alabama (39% decrease);
3. Pennsylvania (37% decrease);
4. South Carolina and Arizona (36% decrease); and
5. Idaho and New Hampshire (33% decrease).

Meanwhile, the smallest cuts/largest increases came in:

1. North Dakota (38% increase);
2. Alaska (6% increase);
3. Indiana at (4% decrease);
4. New York, Montana, and Wyoming (5% decrease); and
5. Nebraska and Arkansas (6% decrease).

Overall, states dropped per-student funding by 21% during the time studied.

Public education is not so public anymore, says GAO

The attention presidential candidates are giving to student debt is encouraging, says Tom Allison, Young Invincibles' deputy policy and research director. "But if you want to be serious about addressing an issue as complicated as student debt, you need to look at the cause of the problem," he says. "And the source is systemic budget cuts at the state level" (Camera, U.S. News & World Report, 1/7; "Quick Takes," Inside Higher Ed, 1/7).

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