State College Funding Hasn’t Passed Pre-Recession Levels

Forty-eight states are spending less on colleges and universities than before the recession, as recent funding increases haven’t made up for years of cuts that pushed tuition higher, according to a report.

Average state spending per student, adjusted for inflation, dropped by $2,026, or 23 percent, since 2008, with funding down in every state except Alaska and North Dakota, according to a report today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Per-student spending in Arizona, Louisiana, and South Carolina was down by more than 40 percent.

“State cuts to higher education since the start of the recession have been both severe, and they’ve been widespread,” said Michael Mitchell, an analyst with the Washington-based center, which advocates against cuts to public programs that help lower-income Americans. “In many states, the cuts have been extraordinarily deep.”

The figures show the lasting impact of the 18-month recession that ended in 2009, even after rebounding tax collections have helped states increase higher education spending.

Colleges have been passing more costs to students. Annual tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-2008 academic year, adjusted for inflation, according to the report. Arizona posted the biggest jump, of 80 percent, while tuition in five other states -- Florida, Georgia, California, Hawaii and Washington -- climbed by more than 60 percent.

The pressure has started to ease.

During the current budget year, 42 states raised per-pupil spending by an average of $449, or 7.2 percent, while average tuition increased by an average of 1.4 percent after inflation, according to the report. The spending increases were led by North Dakota, Florida and Washington. Wisconsin, North Carolina and Louisiana were among those where funding dropped.

“Those are good signs that states are reinvesting,” said Mitchell, the analyst, referring to last year’s increases.

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