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Tuition rates at four-year public colleges climbed 37% over the last decade as states have slashed education funding.
The amount of money states spend on higher education has dropped by $6.6 billion over the last decade, putting a greater cost burden on students who attend public two- and four-year universities, according to a new report.
Forty-one states saw declines in the amount spent per student between 2008 and 2018 after adjusting for inflation, and 27 states spend less in 2018 than they did in 2017, according to a report released this week by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Because of the cuts, average tuition rates now exceed the amount that 27 states spend per-student to fund higher education. That’s up from 10 states in 2008, when the Great Recession began to take its toll on state tax revenue and cuts followed across the country.
The increased reliance on student tuition to fund public universities has translated into higher costs for students, according to the report. Tuition rates at four-year public colleges increased 37%, or $2,708, from 2008 to 2018.
“Rising tuition threatens affordability and access, leaving many students and their families––including those whose annual wages have stagnated or fallen over recent decades—either saddled with onerous debt or unable to afford college altogether,” the report said, noting students of color and low-income students were most likely to be negatively impacted.
In Louisiana, tuition at four-year schools between 2008 and 2018 doubled, increasing by $4,810. During the same period, the state cut per-student funding by 38%, or $4,454. A 2014 series by The Advocate newspaper identified generous business tax incentives as the main culprit in the state’s annual budget woes around that time, noting that public universities and colleges across the state reliably bore the brunt of the corresponding cuts.
Michael Mitchell, one of the authors of the CBPP report, noted that across the country the cuts to higher education funding were most palpable in states that have faced budget challenges due to volatility in natural resources revenues, like oil and gas. Louisiana, too, is in part reliant on oil and gas revenue from drilling in the state.
“We can see that in some other resource-dependent states where, because for a number of years resources and prices for oil were high, they were able to weather some of that. But as those prices fell, they too started having pretty significant cuts,” Mitchell said.
In Arizona, hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from public university budgets after the recession.
A $3,669 cut in per-student funding in Arizona equates to a 55% drop in spending per student, the largest drop of all 50 states. The average tuition at a four-year college in the state increased 98% during that time.
Other states that saw tuition increases greater than 60% over the last decade are Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Hawaii. Alabama, Colorado, Florida and Georgia all cut per-student spending over the last decade while California and Hawaii both increased funding. Tuition rates include only the annual cost of attending a college, not additional expenses like housing, books, or food.
Higher tuition costs can negatively affect low-income students and students of color in a number of ways, the report said.
Some students may be deterred from enrolling altogether based on high costs for tuition. The average net price of attending a public four-year university in 2017 (tuition plus housing and books and minus the average amount of financial aid provided) accounts for 23% of a family’s median household income, but averaged about 38% of black families’ household income.
Universities’ strategies to compensate for budget cuts can lead to resources being shifted away from low-income students.
To increase tuition revenues, Mitchell said some schools have sought to recruit more out-of-state or international students, who pay higher tuition rates than in-state students. To entice those students, schools may offer some financial aid that would otherwise go to low-income students.
To address these issues, the report recommends that lawmakers increase funding to public two- and four-year colleges, bolster need-based financial aid programs, and focus state funding on building out the capacity of colleges with limited resources.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.
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