States turn backs on higher ed, leaving familes and feds with bill


by Mary Ellen Flannery, orignally published in

Funding sources for U.S. public colleges and universities have turned topsy-turvy over the past decade as states have backed away from their investment in the public good and the federal government has increased it, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trust shows.

Specifically, between 2000 and 2012, state spending on higher education fell 37 percent, while federal dollars increased by 32 percent. But the two kinds of money are not simply interchangeable, and the switch has significant implications for institutions of higher education.

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Put simply, state money primarily goes to the colleges — to pay for academic programs and staffing, and other operational expenses. Federal money primarily goes to the student to pay for tuition, often in the form of Pell Grants or government loans. Consequently, the only way that institutions can recoup the loss of state funds is to raise tuition.

And have they ever… Annual tuition at the nation’s four-year public colleges has risen by 28 percent since 2007. (In Arizona, it’s up 80 percent. In Florida and Georgia, 66 percent.) Meanwhile, the nation’s collective student debt now stands at $1.2 trillion, and the federal government has become the nation’s number-one lender for students hoping to mortgage their futures.

“The decline in state aid and the resulting increase in tuition is the single greatest cause of the explosion in student debt,” said NEA higher-ed policy analyst Mark F. Smith. “The increased federal aid only helps to delay the impact on families.”

Too many Americans simply can’t afford a higher education, even as a college degree remains their most reliable ticket to the middle class. And they particularly can’t afford to become public school teachers, a profession that has great rewards — but none of them monetary.

Read the article in its entirety in NEA Today.

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