State Spending on Higher Education Continues Slow Improvement

January 25, 2016

State spending on higher education continues its slow climb out of the depths of the recession. For a third consecutive year, overall state appropriations for higher education increased by a modest amount ­— 4 percent — according to preliminary figures from an annual survey.

The total increase may change, depending on the outcome of negotiations in Illinois and Pennsylvania, where lawmakers have yet to agree to a budget for the fiscal year that began in July.

Aside from those states, the picture for higher-education spending improved from the previous year, according to the annual Grapevine survey, conducted by researchers at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

As in the previous survey, 39 states reported increases in state money for higher education, by amounts ranging from 0.1 percent in Kentucky to 16 percent in Oregon.

Nine states reported decreases from the previous year, from -0.1 percent in New Jersey to -14 percent in Arizona.

Arizona not only had the largest decrease from the previous year, but also is at the bottom of the list of 15 states that are still spending less on higher education than they were five years ago. Arizona’s higher-education appropriations are more than 27 percent less than they were in the 2011 fiscal year. Louisiana is next to last on that list, with spending 25 percent less over the same period.

But even with those examples, the spending trend over five years is another small sign of improvement, said the survey’s authors: Thirty-five states are spending more on higher education this year than they did five years ago, according to the Grapevine project’s figures.

Last year’s results showed that half of the states were spending less than they were five years earlier.

"This suggests an ongoing albeit slow recovery in many states from the losses experienced in the wake of the last recession," said a news release summarizing the survey’s results.

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at