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A Crisis in Public Higher Education

A crisis in public higher education: coming soon to a university near you – if not already there.

June 6, 2012

A crisis in public higher education: coming soon to a university near you – if not already there.

It’s no secret that public higher education is in trouble. Take a look at what’s happening to state appropriations for higher education in this article/chart. And, if it’s hard to read the chart, just look at the colors -- red means that appropriates have decreased over 10%. Lots of red. According to the article, state support for colleges fell nearly 8% in fiscal year 2012.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound so alarming until you realize that, as of 2009, 76% of undergraduate enrollments were in public institutions: 


If you look all the way to the right of the chart for 2009, you see there were 13.4 million undergraduate enrollments at public institutions; 2.6 million at private not-for-profit institutions and 1.6 million at private for-profit institutions. The vast majority of students are enrolled at public institutions – and as these numbers grow, we are cutting the funding.  According to 2011 State Higher Education Finance Report state and local support per full-time-equivalent students in 2010 was the lowest it’s been in the last 25 years.

And the results are being felt.  Take, for example, the University of California system.  This 10-campus system is home to 57 faculty and researchers that have collectively won 58 Nobel prizes – 25 of them since 1995.  They have collectively taught over 1.5 million students and include two of the top-rated universities in the country – UC Berkeley and UCLA, both ranked in the top 25 of all national universities (public or private) by US News and World Report.  And yet their budget continues to be cut, According to a recent NYT article, “In the last year, the state has cut $750 million from the system’s budget.  This year, for the first time, the system receives more money from tuition than from state aid – but that only makes up for roughly a quarter of the cuts from the state.  Over all, the budget is the same as it was in 2007, when there were 75,000 fewer students enrolled. [emphasis mine]” 

This sounds unsustainable to me, particularly since over 75% of US students are educated in public institutions. 

How long can the US retain its excellence in higher education (and high standard of living) with continued cuts? 


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