Declining State Spending on Education Impacts Tuition

“Here is a surprising fact: Public colleges are collecting about the same revenue per student today as they were 25 years ago,” according to a report in the New York Times.

“In 1988, educational revenue per full-time equivalent student at public colleges was $11,300; in 2013, it was $11,500. (These amounts are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 2013 dollars.) That’s just a 1.8 percent increase.”

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The article’s author, economist Susan Dynarski, asks: “How can this be? If tuition has doubled, shouldn’t public colleges be getting double the revenue?”

Of course, most public university professors and administrators already know the answer: declining state funding.

Susan Dynarski explains: “Public colleges depend on two sources of revenue for educating undergraduates: tuition from students and appropriations from their state legislatures. Top research institutions, like the University of Michigan and University of Virginia, also get revenue from endowments, research grants and teaching hospitals. But most students attend public schools where tuition and state funds pay for almost everything.”

For most students at state universities, then, there is a strong inverse correlation between the amount of state funding and the tuition rates.

Dynarski indicates that “In 1988, state legislatures gave their public colleges an average of $8,600 a student. Students contributed an additional $2,700 in tuition, which gets us to a total of $11,300. By 2013, states were kicking in just $6,100, while students were contributing $5,400; this gets us to a total of $11,500.”

Declining state contributions to public universities have thus caused a corresponding rise in tuition rates.

The math is simple: “As far as students are concerned, public tuition has doubled. As far as public colleges are concerned, funding is flat.”

Dynarski concludes that: “At public colleges, then, the explanation for rising tuition prices isn’t spiraling costs. The costs are the same, but the burden of paying those costs has shifted from state taxpayers to students.”

So, if you are concerned about rising tuition costs at state universities, contact your state legislator and ask him/her to reverse course and increase state funding of public universities. Public education in the United States is seriously endangered by underfunding.

The New York Times reports on declining state spending on education online.

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