Higher Education in US Continues to Struggle After Cuts

Those who feel that the tentative steps taken by states in the last two years to raise their higher education budgets after years of cuts signals a return to out-of-control spending can rest easier. According to a table published by The Atlantic, on a per-student basis, most states are nowhere near the funding levels that were seen prior to the 2008 economic recession.

According to a report by the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities, only 2 out of 50 states have showed a net increase in higher education funding since 2008. The rest have cut their higher ed spending by as little as 3% in Alaska to as much as 50% in Arizona and New Hampshire.

These cuts are major contributors to the increase in tuition at both public and private universities. In some of the states with the steepest cuts, college tuition increases were in excess of 50% since 2008.

The states that slashed the most didn’t necessarily hike the most. Some university systems chose to cope with leaner funding through cost savings — perhaps at the expense of educational quality — by thinning their number of faculty or combining programs. Other states, like Missouri, simply limit public colleges from raising tuition by more than a certain amount each year.

With the economic recovery continuing to be slow, it is not anticipated that higher education funding will return to the pre-2008 levels for some time. Although this means that students are likely have to deal with an ever steeper college price tag, it also means that colleges and universities should get more aggressive about exploring ways of gaining efficiency.

Many schools are looking at ways to harness technology to realize cost savings, but although much progress has been made in reinventing the classroom and allowing tech to play a bigger role, adoption is still in the very early stages and the impact of the change won’t likely to be felt for years — or even decades.

Again, there are some people who might think these cuts are overdue. Others might simply argue that states, needing to balance their budgets, didn’t have a choice. But I’d argue that these numbers are a vivid demonstration of why Washington’s post-recession path has been so disastrous. Instead of taking advantage of historically low borrowing rates and aiding the states, Congress cut the lifeline once the first round of stimulus funding dried up. Graphs like these show us the consequences.