State funding on the upswing—maybe

Two states yet to report 2016 budgets

On average, state support for higher education increased for the third consecutive fiscal year, according to the annual Grapevine report.

For the report, the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University (ISU) and the State Higher Education Executives Officers examine state-level higher education appropriations for the current year and compare them with historical trends. Analysts look at money designated for financial aid, scholarships, and operating support, among other things—but student fees and most federal sources are not included. The report also does not address enrollment changes or per-student spending.

According to the report, overall spending grew by 4.1% this year. A total of 39 states reported increases in state funding for higher education in fiscal year 2016 compared with 2015, while nine recorded cuts. Two states—Illinois and Pennsylvania—have not yet finalized their 2016 budgets, which means the national average could still change significantly.

The budget standoffs in those two states mark the first time in the Grapevine report's 15-year history that states have not had figures to report, says report author James Palmer.

Researchers say the increase in state financial support follows historic patterns: states cut funding during tough economic times but slowly increase appropriations as the economy recovers. In 2012, state funding fell by 7.6%; in 2013 it dropped by 0.4%. Since then, it's been on the rise.

"State support for higher education pretty much tracks the ups and downs of the business cycle of the economy," Palmer says. Thirty-five states are spending more money on higher education than they did five years ago.

However, some higher ed leaders contend that systems' funding never fully bounces back from cuts.

"There is a sense among many analysts that over the long haul, these recoveries have not yet been full recoveries," Palmer says. "That over the long haul, we've been losing ground."  

This year, states that increased funding the most were:

1. Oregon (16.2%);
2. Washington (12%);
3. Wyoming (11.2%); and
4. Colorado (11.1%).

Meanwhile, Kentucky, Iowa, and Missouri increased funding by just 0.1%, 0.2%, and 0.4% respectively.

Nine states decreased funding:

1. New Jersey (-0.1%);
2. Arkansas (0.4%);
3. Vermont (-0.9%);
4. Kansas (-1.2%);
5 Oklahoma (-3.1%);
6. West Virginia (-3.8%);
7. Alaska (-6.1%);
8. Wisconsin (-8.1%); and
9. Arizona (-14%).

(Wexler, Inside Higher Ed, 1/25; Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/25; Grapevine report, table 2).

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