State Appropriations Per Student Fell Again in 2012, but Enrollment Peaked
March 6, 2013

The large college enrollment growth seen in the post-recession period leveled off between 2011 and 2012, but continued state budget cuts meant that public colleges and universities saw a 9 percent decline in per-student state appropriations between 2011 and 2012, according to a report released today by the State Higher Education Executive Officers. The report, a followup to one released in January, finds that while spending increased in three of every five states, those increases were small, and when coupled with large decreases in states like California, amounted to an overall decline.

Public colleges and universities have tried to make up the difference through tuition increases. Net tuition revenue as a share of general operating revenues (excluding grants for research and auxiliary functions) grew from 31.6 percent in 2008 to 42.5 percent in 2012. Since 2002, enrollment at public universities has increased 28 percent, according to the report.

“One year does not make a trend, but SHEEO’s annual studies document a long-term trend toward shifting more of the burden of financing higher education onto tuition and fees," said SHEEO President Paul Lingenfelter in a press release. "In light of these trends, policymakers should give more attention to the size and effectiveness of state and institutional student assistance programs in providing access and adequate support for full-time enrollment in postsecondary education.

As with similar studies, the overall trend masks deep differences between states. While some states, such as Iowa, have seen significant declines in per-student appropriations that tuition hikes have not been able to compensate for, other states, particularly North Dakota, have seen robust growth in enrollments, per-student spending and tuition prices that leave them in much better positions than in 2000.

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