Ain't No Rest for the Indebted Student

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Public universities in the United States have seen a significant rise in tuition over the past decade. These changes affect many citizens seeing as the country’s public universities enroll almost 65% of full-time college students.

Common scapegoats to explain this tuition hike include: exponential increases in administrative salaries and the addition of "big ticket" student amenities. Only one quarter of the hike in college tuition since the turn of the century can be attributed to rising faculty salaries and increased expenditure on amenities. However, research shows that the largest catalyst of rising tuitions for public universities is declining state funding for higher education.In contrast, three-quarters of the change in tutions can be attributed to decreased state funding for public institutions.

A Case Study:
At Temple University in Pennsylvania, average tuition revenue per student (adjusted for inflation) increased by $5,880 between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 academic years, according to data released by the Department of Education. Appropriations per student garnered from the state have declined nearly $4,000 over the same time frame. Here’s the jist: if the state of Pennsylvania returned to funding levels circa 2000, its public universities could subtract $4,000 from the cost of tuition per student without undergoing budget cuts in any other area.
Many question the role of the Great Recession in such cuts. All we can say is state funding grew slowly during the recovery from the Great Recession, but not quickly enough to match the growth rate of enrollment. This left schools with more students that they could fund without the state’s intervention.
Although the data below exhibits differences between states, it is easy to spot a national trend for decreased state funding and the tuition hikes for all public universities. Only three states have increased funding according to the data: North Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska. Increased state funding in these territories, places with few public universities, is far from a large investment on the part of those states.
In conclusion, there is no single cause of the tuition boom, but we can recognize a dominant factor in decreased support for higher education on the part of state legislatures.

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Anna Graff

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