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The Great Cost Shift On Higher Education

Figure 1: Real Increase/Decline in State Higher Education Funding Per StudentSince the founding of public higher education, our nation has moved progressively toward expanding the doors of access. But in the last generation, we have moved in the opposite direction. State higher education funding on a per-student basis is lower today than it was in 1980. Federal financial aid no longer provides grants robust enough to defray the rising cost of college.

As student debt continues to climb, it’s important to understand how our once debt-free system of public universities and colleges has been transformed into a system in which most students borrow, and at increasingly higher amounts.Figure 2: Percent Change in State Higher Eucation Funding Per Student In less than a generation, our nation’s higher education system has become a debt-for-diploma system—more than seven out of 10 college seniors now borrow to pay for college and graduate with an average debt of $29, 400.1Up until about two decades ago, state funding ensured college tuition remained within reach for most middle-class families, and financial aid provided extra support to ensure lower-income students could afford the costs of college.

As Demos chronicled in its first report in the The Great Cost Shift series, this compact began to unravel as states disinvested in higher education during economic downturns but were unable, or unwilling, to restore funding levels during times of economic expansion. Today, as a result, public colleges and universities rely on tuition to fund an ever-increasing share of their operating expenses. And students and their families rely more and more on debt to meet those rising tuition costs.Figure 3: State Budget Gaps & Higher Education Funding Cuts Nationally, revenue from tuition paid for 44 percent of all operating expenses of public colleges and universities in 2012, the highest share ever. A quarter century ago, the share was just 20 percent.2 This shift—from a collective funding of higher education to one borne increasingly by individuals—has come at the very same time that low- and middle-income households experienced stagnant or declining household income.

The Great Recession intensified these trends, leading to unprecedented declines in state funding for higher education and steep tuition increases:

NATIONWIDE CUTS: 49 states (all but North Dakota) are spending less per student on higher education than they did before the Great Recession.3 In contrast, only 33 states cut per-student spending between 2001 and 2008, 4 the period since the last recession.

MANY DEEP CUTS: In many states, the cuts have been especially deep. Since the recession, 28 states have cut per-student funding by more than 25 percent, compared to just one state—Michigan—that did so between 2001 and 2008.

Peter Lang International Academic Publishers Neoliberal Developments in Higher Education: The United Kingdom and Germany
Book (Peter Lang International Academic Publishers)
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