More States Increasing Higher Ed Funding, Freezing Tuition

After several years of cuts, a number of states are planning to boost higher education spending this year, and lawmakers are also looking at ways to reign in out-of-control tuition increases by implementing tuition freezes for the campuses making up their public university systems.

Mary Beth Marklein and Michael Auslen write in USA Today that among states that are considering either or both of these measures are Iowa, Nebraska, Montana and Minnesota, where public university administrators have agreed not to raise tuition this year in exchange for higher funding levels. Budget proposals from governors in New Hampshire and California include similar deals for legislators’ consideration.

For students and public universities alike, “things are more optimistic-looking in the next 12 months compared with the last half-decade,” says Daniel Hurley, spokesman for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“As recently as two years ago, we witnessed significant state higher education funding reductions, which resulted in equally significant increases in tuition prices. This year the evidence suggests that the funding turbulence has settled down considerably,” Hurley says. “Most states have provided modest funding increases and as a consequence, the rise in tuition prices at public universities will likely be lower than what we’ve seen during the past decade, with tuition price freezes even being put in place in a number of states.”

Although more limited, the news is good even in states where the tuition is set to rise this year. Compared to hikes as high as 20% in previous years, almost everywhere universities are making an effort to keep increases to single digits for the next academic year. After an 20% increase in 2010, the University of Arizona – Tuscon is only approving a 3.4% increase this fall.

Still, there are exceptions. In Louisiana and Colorado lawmakers have given a green light to university administrators on tuition hikes that are as high as 10% annually since 2010. The money was supposed to offset cuts in public funding made necessary by revenue drops due to the recession.

The uptick in state funding for higher education began last year, when 30 states increased spending for public colleges and universities, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That reversed five years of cuts in every state except Wyoming and North Dakota. During that time, tuition increased by more than 15% in 40 states and more than 50% in seven states after adjusting for inflation, says the center, which focuses on issues affecting low- and moderate-income families and individuals

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