The latest report on state financing of higher education shows a glimmer of good news for public colleges. But it’s also a reminder of how much has changed for public higher education since the start of the recession, in 2008.
State and local dollars for higher education increased by 0.7 percent from the 2012 to the 2013 fiscal years, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers. At the same time, enrollment at the nation’s public colleges dropped by 2.4 percent, according to the association’s "State Higher Education Finance" report.
Net tuition—gross tuition minus state and institutional financial aid—increased by 3.5 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, "suggesting that tuition does not increase only in response to state funding cuts" but also because of inflation and the need to increase salaries after years of pay freezes.
The increasing state and local appropriations are a sign of the slowly recovering economy, but the larger picture for higher education remains mixed.
Educational revenues, per full-time student, are still more than 6 percent less than they were in 2008, the report says.
The national figures mask the much deeper financial problems for public higher education in many individual states since 2008 as a result of a combination of enrollment increases and state budget cuts. Educational appropriations per full-time student have fallen more than 50 percent in New Hampshire and more than 40 percent in both Florida and Louisiana. More than 20 other states have seen declines exceeding 25 percent in appropriations per full-time student.
Only four states increased tax dollars for public higher education from 2008 to 2013: Alaska, Illinois, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Illinois also did so, but most of the increase in that state resulted from its efforts to shore up its public pensions, the report notes.