Essay on the need to consider which institutions should bear the brunt of state cuts in public higher ed

State spending on public higher education has been in a free fall since the Great Recession. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2013-14, average state support for higher education was 23 percent less than it was prior to the recession. For many colleges and universities, reductions in state spending have left sizable budgetary holes that cannot be filled exclusively with spending cuts.

The result, in most cases, has been steady increases in tuition and fees charged to students. In effect, as public investment in higher education has declined, the cost burden associated with public higher education has increasingly shifted to students and their families.

Public concern, if not outcry, over this situation has resounded nationwide, and presidential candidates from both political parties have taken stands that higher education has become unaffordable for many students and families. Their response has been to propose policies that would lower the price of college as well as build a stronger federal-state partnership to ensure that states make appropriate investments in higher education.

However, missing from this conversation is the question of how investments -- and cuts -- are distributed among institutions of higher education. While state support flows to all public colleges and universities, some institutions depend on it far more than others. Research universities can look to endowment funds, gifts, auxiliary enterprises and federal funds for revenue when state funds decline, and their students are often more able to bear increases in tuition. But at community colleges and comprehensive public universities, state appropriations are the dominant source of funding, and when they decline, tuition must go up.

It is therefore important that policy makers move beyond the question of total dollars for higher education and consider where those dollars are spent. This issue -- which institutions get what funds -- is a common topic in K-12 education finance, but is often neglected in higher education.

In July, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab (of which we are the director and an affiliate, respectively) convened a national meeting of experts to explore how state higher education funding is allocated. Given Governor Scott Walker’s recent budget and its corresponding cuts to the University of Wisconsin system, we spent time considering the per-student funding that the state of Wisconsin provides to its public colleges and universities. We noted that state spending differs significantly among institutions. For example, in 2012-13, the state provided the University of Wisconsin-Madison with approximately $12,410 per full-time-equivalent student (FTE), whereas it provided $5,157 per FTE to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and just $3,211 per FTE to the two-year University of Wisconsin Colleges.

Differentiated state spending among higher education institutions is not new. On the one hand, legislators and college leaders argue these differences are appropriate and justified due to variations in the quantity and quality of education and related services offered students. And, frankly, that may be an important contributing factor.

On the other hand, the differences in the magnitude and distribution of Wisconsin’s expenditures among in-state higher education institutions raised red flags among the experts. First, while a case might be made that flagship institutions, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, require additional funding over and above the statewide average to maintain its core functions, the opposite case could be made for institutions such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which serves a greater share of first-time college students and students from less-advantaged academic background that, arguably, may require more intensive academic supports and services to complete college.

This idea of “vertical equity” is woven into the fabric of K-12 education finance and well articulated in school funding court cases nationwide. That is, state funding for elementary and secondary education is frequently distributed in ways that provide compensatory, or extra funding, above the norm for schools that serve concentrations of economically disadvantaged students. The research literature that examines nonschool factors influencing academic success has repeatedly reaffirmed the important role that economic advantage plays.

In an era where spending cuts have been the norm, applying such a standard to higher education raises serious questions not only about the extent to which all colleges and universities receive adequate funding to support their mission but also who is most impacted by cuts in state appropriations.

This question of who may be most affected by higher education cuts introduces another concern -- whether those cuts are fairly distributed. Another important observation made by our group is that institutions already operating at the margin have less capacity to buffer students and families from reductions in state funding. Consider the community college, long relied on to be the most accessible and affordable point of entry to education after high school. To fulfill that mission and keep tuition low, such colleges depend on state and local support. But over time, that support has eroded sharply.

The consequence of the rapid defunding of community colleges is staggering. Across the nation, between 2000 and 2012 it led to a doubling in tuition and fees -- from $1,842 to $2,696 in inflation-adjusted figures. Sometimes financial aid can help offset that cost, but it often cannot at community colleges, where aid budgets are thin. Thus, since 2000, out-of-pocket costs facing students in the lowest income quartile attending community college grew by 61 percent and students began taking loans at much higher rates and accumulating more debt that they have difficulty repaying.

Again, community colleges are less equipped than public universities to attract out-of-state students or raise tuition to offset cuts, and their spending on instruction and student services may be too little to begin with. The two-year University of Wisconsin Colleges serve more first-generation students, more part-time students and more adult undergraduates than any other institutions in the UW system. Does just $3,000 to $6,000 a year (the national average is $5,700) in state support adequately ensure that academically vulnerable, economically insecure students, working parents and nontraditional learners will receive a quality postsecondary education that will prepare them for the workforce and beyond? It seems highly unlikely.

Improving the sufficiency and fairness of state allocations for higher education will require shedding more light on within-state funding distributions. It also will also demand a more careful accounting of the real costs -- not just how much is spent -- associated with educating different groups of students at the postsecondary level. Such data are currently nearly impossible to come by, but they must be collected.

Are UW-Madison students truly more expensive to educate, and if so, why? Are there reasons that could help explain why students at UW Colleges receive the lower level of investment? It is long past time for these questions and others like them to be asked and answered. Absent an unexpected influx of new funds, the future of college affordability will depend on how state monies are spent. We need to start paying attention.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Tammy Kolbe is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Vermont and an affiliate of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

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Court rules that U of Kansas can't expel students over remarks on Twitter, made off campus

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U of Kansas ordered to readmit student who made offensive comments about his ex-girlfriend, also a student. University's concerns about Title IX are rejected.

College Abacus Releases Tool for Low-Income Students

College Abacus is a free online tool for students and families to compare college pricing -- using net-price estimates taken from colleges and federal databases. The tool, which is owned by ECMC Group, a nonprofit loan guarantor, was one of several outside entities the U.S. Department of Education collaborated with on new data from the White House's College Scorecard, released earlier this month. College Abacus got early access to information from the large data sets that undergird the Scorecard, incorporating it into the online tool.

On Monday the group announced the release of a new tool aimed at low-income students. In addition to net-price comparisons, the new Pell Abacus uses data from the Scorecard to display college-specific information on financial factors such as average loan payments for Pell Grant recipients, the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants and the average monthly income percentage spent on federal loan repayments after college.

“By making this process simple to navigate without tax forms and accessible on mobile phones, we’re removing some of the key barriers preventing low-income students from exploring their full range of college options,” Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus and vice president of innovation and product management at ECMC Group, said in a written statement.

Ivory Toldson to Lead White House HBCU Office

Ivory Toldson is the new executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Friday. Toldson has been deputy director of the initiative since 2013. He follows George Cooper, the previous executive director, who died in July.

A former professor of psychology at Howard and Southern Universities, Toldson also has worked for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, congratulated Toldson in a written statement. "Despite difficult circumstances," Duncan said, "he and the initiative’s team have continued to remain focused on their work and the students they serve."

Cornell Grad Students Form Unrecognized Union

Graduate student workers at Cornell University voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, they announced Thursday. The election took place outside National Labor Relations Board channels and the university has not recognized Cornell Graduate Students United. There’s a federal labor law precedent against graduate student worker unions at private colleges -- Cornell is private, although it operates some units of the State University of New York -- but the union says it would like to be recognized by the university anyway, outside of litigation. (New York University recognized its United Autoworkers-affiliated graduate student union, for example.) If that doesn't happen, the Cornell union says, it will explore various options to further student workers’ goals, which include increased stipends, workers’ compensation, six- and seventh-year funding, and more say in university affairs.

Joel M. Malina, a Cornell spokesperson, said in a statement that graduate student workers are not considered employees under federal labor law since “their relationship with the university is primarily educational. As a result, they do not have the right to union representation or to engage in collective bargaining. Cornell will follow the law.” If the law changes, he said, and graduate student workers still want a union, “such considerations are ultimately a matter for Cornell graduate assistants to decide through the appropriate process, which may include a legally sanctioned election should a sufficient number of graduate students request one.”

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Dean Performs Heimlich on Provost

Levi Esses, Newman University’s dean of students, on Tuesday noticed Provost Michael Austin coughing and, as soon became apparent, choking, The Wichita Eagle reported. Fortunately, Esses knows the Heimlich maneuver and was able to dislodge a piece of candy on which the provost was choking. Austin was, of course, appreciative. On Wednesday, he quipped that “provosts should not try to walk and chew at the same time.”

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Regents Met Iowa President Before Official Interview

Emails between newly selected University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Iowa's Board of Regents reveal that Harreld met with multiple board members in July, weeks before candidates were formally interviewed by the 21-member presidential search committee.

Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, confirmed in a statement that Harreld met with four board members on July 30 in Ames, Iowa. Harreld sent his résumé -- which has since been critiqued by faculty members for inaccuracy -- to regents in advance of their meeting. He also visited Iowa's health system on July 8. That day he gave a lecture to hospital administrators and had lunch with Rastetter and three search committee members.

"I especially appreciated your candor and perspective on the challenges and opportunities at UI," Harreld wrote to one regent after their July 30 meeting. "As we discussed, institutions only go up or down. It's clear many critical elements are in place to enable UI's next leader to take the institution to the next level."

That regent, Mary Andringa, wrote back to Harreld and encouraged him to apply for the presidency: "Crisis necessitates change -- it may be the big challenge that can energize you in the next five years!"

The revelation of these meetings further fuels concern among some faculty and staff at Iowa that Harreld's eventual selection was a done deal even before he and three other candidates were announced as finalists earlier this month. Harreld was selected as Iowa's next president, effective November, despite widespread faculty, student and staff opposition.

In his statement, Rastetter defended board members' meetings with Harreld. "The purpose of these meetings, which were at Mr. Harreld’s request, was for him to become more informed about the expectations the board had for the next president of the University of Iowa," he said.

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Will a University Kill Its Prairie Dogs?

Nearly 140,000 people have signed an online petition opposing a “Buddhist-inspired” university’s pursuit of permission to exterminate a community of prairie dogs living on one of its campuses. The petition’s web page features a picture of an adult and juvenile prairie dog and a caption underneath that reads, “Mommy, I heard Naropa University is going to have all of us killed.”

Naropa University, a private, nonprofit college in Boulder, Colo., did indeed apply for “a lethal control permit,” per local news site Daily Camera. But university officials said they have no plans yet to exterminate the 100 or so prairie dogs and were rather hoping the application process would help them find a place to relocate the animals.

"We were legitimately hoping that this would spur the community to help us identify some slots and I would say that we are deeply disappointed that despite making all these great efforts, not one option came forward," said Bill Rigler, a Naropa spokesman.

The fact that a lethal solution is even on the table, though, riled the nonprofit preservation group WildLands Defense, which sponsored the petition.

"It is a Buddhist university and the fact that a Buddhist university would even apply for a lethal application for prairie dogs is totally against any Buddhist concepts," Deanna Meyer, Colorado director for WildLands Defense, told Daily Camera. "You don't do that. You don't kill animals. So that inspired a lot of people, like, 'Are you kidding me? A Buddhist university is going to kill the native populations there? Why?'"

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Iowa Faculty Group Censures Incoming President

The Faculty Assembly of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa on Wednesday voted to censure J. Bruce Harreld, the incoming president who was selected by the Iowa Board of Regents over the objections of faculty groups. While other faculty bodies have condemned the Board of Regents, this is the first faculty vote censuring Harreld. The vote was over discrepancies in his résumé that his supporters have dismissed as minor issues.

The resolution states: "Whereas the University of Iowa holds all members of the campus community to the highest ethical standards; whereas it is our academic duty to teach and model the highest ethical standards to our students; whereas professional ethics and responsibility in any field require accurate and honest self-presentation on a résumé; whereas incoming President Harreld’s résumé inaccurately claimed the position of managing principal of a company, Executing Strategy, LLC Avon, Colorado, that does not exist; whereas Incoming President Harreld’s résumé fails to cite co-authors for nine of 12 items listed as his publications (as prohibited in University of Iowa Operations Manual Section II.27.10.e Violation 1); the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Faculty Assembly censures incoming President Harreld for his failure of professional ethics."

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Does College President Need a Private Locker Room?

Robert Breuder, president of the College of DuPage, is already on leave and could lose his job over criticism of his spending decisions. Now The Chicago Tribune has uncovered a relatively small spending decision compared to others, but one that critics say symbolizes what was wrong about his leadership. After DuPage, a community college outside Chicago, spent $24 million to upgrade a fitness facility, Breuder had a family changing room converted to a private locker room available only to him and to two other senior administrators. Documents obtained by the Tribune show that this was a priority item for Breuder, who declined to comment. A sign outside the locked room says "Authorized Personnel Only."

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