Only four states have made up recession-era cuts to higher ed funding

Twenty-five states have reduced per-student funding by more than 20% since 2007

The vast majority of states are spending far less on public higher education than they did before the recession, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Since 2007, states as a whole have invested 17% less in public institutions, equivalent to $1,525 less per student. In only four states—Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—is per-student funding greater than it was before the recession. Twenty-five states have reduced per-student funding by more than 20%, while eight states have reduced per-student funding by more than 30%. Arizona has reduced per-student funding by more than half.

While most states increased per-student funding during the 2015-2016 school year, per-student funding fell in 11 states during this period.

Tuition fees growing faster than families' median income

According to the report, the published tuition prices at public institutions are about 33% higher today than they were in 2007. However, the net price has decreased. Data from the College Board show that from 2015-2016, the average published tuition price was $9,400, while the net price was about $4,000.

"These sharp tuition increases have accelerated longer-term trends of college becoming less affordable and costs shifting from states to students," the report reads. "Over the last 20 years, the price of attending a four-year public college or university has grown significantly faster than the median income. Although federal student aid and tax credits have risen, on average they have fallen short of covering the tuition increases."

Enrollment rates on the rise

Student enrollment has continued to grow, meaning that states must spend more each year to keep per-student expenditures even. Between 2007-2008 and 2013-2014, enrollment at public institutions increased 8.6%, equivalent to 900,000 full-time students. 

"The story that people don't often talk about is the enrollment side of the changes," says Andrew Kelly, head of the center on higher education reform at the American Enterprise Institute. "A lot of states did actually lower how much they appropriated from one year to the next, which, coupled with increases in enrollment, really drove those per-pupil spending numbers down."

Public colleges relying on tuition revenue

Public institutions are also increasingly relying on tuition for revenue. In 1988, education revenue from state funds was more than triple the amount institutions received from tuition and fees. But by 2015, state funding and tuition revenue were nearly even.

To manage resources efficiently, deans need the right data

Average tuition at public four-year institutions has increased by:

  • More than 60 percent in seven states;
  • More than 40 percent in 14 states; and
  • More than 20 percent in 39 states.  

 (Mitchell et al., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, 5/19; Zinshteyn, Hechinger Report, 5/19).

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