More Public Universities Cap Enrollment, Even as State Finances Improve

November 08, 2013

State economies are recovering slowly from the recession, but higher education remains under financial duress in many places, according to a report issued on Friday by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

The report, "Halfway Out of Recession, but a Long Way to Go," is based on a survey of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges, whose members have a broad knowledge of finance and access for the entire spectrum of public higher education, the report said. It found that budget constraints had led to enrollment caps at regional universities in 15 states and at flagship universities in nine states. In 2010 enrollments were capped at regional universities in 12 states and at flagships in seven states, the report said.

"The fact that enrollment caps had been instituted at more public flagship and regional universities in the past four years is at a minimum troubling, if not alarming, to those who favor extending access," the report concluded.

Community colleges in three states are capping enrollments, the report said, but 10 other states reported insufficient capacity to serve all the current and projected numbers of students, the survey found.

In all, access to college at one of the three higher-education levels is threatened in 19 states, which now serve a majority of the nation's 15 million college students, according to the center's figures.

At the same time, tuition is likely to rise in many states because appropriations for public colleges and student financial aid are not expected to increase at the same rate as inflation in the coming fiscal year.

While many fewer states are projecting budget shortfalls for the current and coming fiscal year, higher-education appropriations face increasing competition from states' share of the federal Medicaid program, state pension obligations, and the costs of carrying out the federal Affordable Care Act, the report said.