Published on 2012/03/02

Spotted State Funding Affecting Higher Education’s Relevance

Catherine Rampell of the New York Times reported on Thursday that budget cuts that have ravaged state-funded institutions over the past two decades have left public higher education providers unable to meet the demand for learning that they are currently experiencing.

Rampell reports that over the past 25 years state reactions to recessions have been tough on higher education budgets and, when the economy recovered funding was never restored to its previous amounts. This has led to vast increases to tuition to try to make up the difference, though the cuts in spending have never been offset by tuition spikes.

“There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it’s the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill,” Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute and a trustee of the State University of New York system, told Rampell. While colleges have managed to hold costs per student to a consistent level, the share of instruction costs paid for by tuition dollars has nearly doubled from 23 percent in 1985 to 40 percent today.

“I understand why students are angry,” George R. Blumenthal, the chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Rampell. “They have to write bigger checks every year, and they can’t get into the classes they want. The reality is they’re paying more and getting less.”

This seriously impacts prospective students currently out of work who are looking to the higher education system as a way to update and increase their skills for the modern workforce. The costs can simply be too high to consider public higher education as a realistic option.

Furthermore, the University of Florida’s former associate director for institutional research, Nate Johnson, told Rampell that decreasing budgets cause institutions to offer more low-cost programs. Given the current demand for technical skills in the labor force, the numerous politics degrees on offer simply aren’t meeting modern-day demands.

“When they don’t get the appropriate level of funding, there’s a flight to cheaper programs, like general studies or the humanities,” Johnson said.

“There is this narrative out there that we have enough money in the system, that if we only spent it better we could increase degree attainment,” Jane V. Wellman, founding director of the Delta Cost Project which released a comprehensive report on college costs, told Rampell. “But we are not going to get the degree attainment levels the economy needs exclusively from finding ‘efficiencies’ here and there. This is not the miracle of the loaves and fishes.”

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