State and Local Spending on Higher Education Reached a New 25-Year Low in 2011

March 16, 2012

As if anyone associated with public higher education needed a reminder, 2011 was a lousy year for higher-education finance.

A new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers confirms just how awful it was: State and local money for higher education fell to a quarter-century low for the second consecutive year, while enrollments continued their climb to record highs.

From the beginning of the recession, in the 2007-8 fiscal year, through the 2011 fiscal year, college enrollment increased nationally by 12.5 percent, to 11.5 million students, the report says. But state and local appropriations have decreased by $1.3-billion over the same period.

The national average for combined state and local support is now down to $6,290 per full-time student—2.5 percent less than in 2010 and the lowest amount in the past 25 years, the report concludes.

Largely to make up for the loss of state and local dollars, tuition revenue per student reached $4,774 in 2011, an all-time high, according to the report. Over the past 25 years, the percentage of educational revenue supported by tuition has climbed steadily, from 23.2 percent in 1986 to 43.3 percent in 2011.

States and institutions alike should work to reverse the trends of decreasing government support and increasing costs to students, the report concludes in a commentary section. Otherwise, it says, the economic future of the United States will be at risk.

"Other countries are rapidly improving the postsecondary education of their citizens; if the United States falls behind in either quality or the number of students who enroll and graduate, it will not be easy to catch up," George Pernsteiner, chair of SHEEO's executive committee and chancellor of the Oregon University System, said in a written statement accompanying the report.