It's been seven years since the end of the recession, but states are still spending $8.7 billion less per year on public higher education than they did in 2008, Luba Ostashevsky writes for The Hechinger Report.
That's an average of 18% less per student.
"Higher ed has historically been the thing used to balance budgets," says Dustin Weeden, senior policy specialist at National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's the only spot on the budget where costs can be pushed on to the end user."As state costs for health care and employee pensions skyrocket, funding for higher education remains on the chopping block. According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Medicaid consumes nearly 24% of state spending. In some states, employee pensions account for more spending than public universities and colleges together.
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To counteract nationwide state disinvestment colleges have had to raise tuition, even as a college degree becomes more important for career success.
Tuition at Pennsylvania public universities, for instance, rose nearly $2,000 due to a 33% cut to higher education spending since the recession hit in 2008. Arizona has cut higher education spending by half, and Louisiana by 55% percent.
In addition to raising tuition, the lack of sufficient state funding also affects academic quality. At many colleges, Ostashevsky argues that students are now getting less for their money.
State colleges and universities have eliminated staff positions, increased class size, and suspended majors deemed less important.
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In Pennsylvania alone, state universities eliminated 900 staff positions, says Kenn Marshall, spokesperson for the state system of education. East Stroudsburg University has suspended its English and French majors.
State higher education disinvestment means tuition increases. And an increase in tuition means more student loan debt. According to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success, 70% of students in Pennsylvania now graduate with an average debt of $33,264. That's higher than the national average of $29,000.
Though observers are grateful that state investments in higher education have not dropped below their lowest points back in 2012, schools have yet to see any significant increases to make up for the nearly 30% drop since the recession. Pennsylvania, for instance, only raised higher education spending for the 2016-2017 year by 2.5% (Ostashevsky, The Hechinger Report, 9/14).
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