State spending on higher education has risen for four years straight—but the increases are slowing down and more states are cutting funding than in the past.
According to Grapevine's annual survey, states increased higher education funding by 3.4% across fiscal year 2017, which is a slightly slower increase than in the previous fiscal year.
See last year's results
Thirty-nine states overall increased their spending in the most recent fiscal year, with a total increase of roughly $2.75 billion. States that increased higher ed spending the most include Hawaii, Idaho, South Dakota, and Virginia—each of which increased spending by roughly 10%.
On the other hand, 10 states actually decreased their spending. Wyoming, Alaska, and Louisiana scaled back the most: each cut their funding by around 7% or more.
The upward trend in spending is now on its fourth year, following a four-year decline during the recession. Nationwide, spending on higher education has increased 16.4% since fiscal year 2012.
According to James Palmer, an editor of the Grapevine report, "State support for higher education pretty much tracks the ups and downs of the business cycle of the economy." While many states have seen a modest uptick since the end of the recession, he points out that state funding nationwide has yet to fully recover, and unfortunately isn't likely to do so before the next economic downturn.
"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."
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What's more, Grapevine researchers look at state appropriations to financial aid, scholarships, and operating support, but don't consider student fees, federal sources of funding, enrollment changes, or per-student spending. So while the word "increase" seems positive, it is important to note that these trends do not mean schools are necessarily able to grow their budgets overall.
Finally, pending legislation in Illinois could potentially change the year's overall results. The state is currently in a budget standoff, following a state of financial emergency for Illinois institutions, but is expected to increase its funding going forward (Hesse, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/6; Seltzer, Inside Higher Ed, 2/6; Grapevine site, accessed 2/8).
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