Students Struggle as State Spending Fails To Rebound

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States have begun to restore cuts to higher education, but spending levels still haven’t rebounded to what they were before the recession hit in 2008.

This year 42 states have increased the amount they spend to support public colleges and universities, but according to a new report from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, every state except Alaska and North Dakota spends less per student now than they did before the recession when you adjust for inflation.

The difference in spending is steep, too. The average state still spends 23 percent less per student, which translates to about $2,026.


Schools, which typically rely on the state for around half their funding, have raised tuition and cut costs to compensate. The report found that public schools have increased tuition by 28 percent since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation. Tuition in Arizona is up an incredible 80 percent, while Florida has hit students with a 66 percent increase and California has enacted a 62 percent jump.

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The cuts have not been painless. Schools have eliminated faculty positions, trimmed course offerings and closed computer labs and libraries, the report notes. These cuts have happened at the same time the number of students attending state colleges has increased. The report calculates that there are about a million - or 10 percent - more full-time students than before the recession. Some of the increase has to do with the “baby boom echo” and some of it is a consequence of the fact that young people have struggled to find jobs and turned to college instead.

Many of those students have had to turn to loans to finance their degrees, which could have long-term consequences down the line. Students devoting money to loan payments have less to save for big purchases like cars and houses that help bolster the economy. Some studies indicate these students are delaying major life decisions like marriage and babies, too.


The report criticizes states like Florida for cutting taxes, arguing that states need to increase revenue, and cautions against tuition increases for low-income students. These students might be pushed toward less-selective, cheaper schools that aren’t as high quality, which could reduce their future earnings, the report argues.

The takeaway: Ultimately, the economy is still shaky, money is tight and states certainly don’t have extra cash to throw around. But at current spending levels, higher education is a sound investment that remains out-of-reach for many would-be students.


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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