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Cuts to aid decreases college affordability

Freddie Allen | 4/29/2013, 9:17 a.m. | Updated on 4/29/2013, 6:32 p.m.
NAFEO President Lezli Baskerville NAFEO

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As President Obama continues to underscore the need to increase the college-educated workforce significantly by 2020, all except two states have slashed their funding for higher education.

“Cuts to state funding for higher education, since the start of the recession, have been severe and very widespread,” said Phill Oliff, a policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank that analyzes government policy and programs.

According to a report by the center, from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2013, every state slashed spending on higher education except for North Dakota and Wyoming.

“States, and to a much lesser extent local governments, provide just over half of the revenue that can be used to support instruction at these schools. When the funding gets cut, public colleges and universities generally must raise either tuition, cut spending, or a combination of both to fill the gap,” Oliff said. “That is exactly what’s happened since the start of the recession.”

The CBPP report found that states are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education, nationwide, in the current 2013 fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit.

Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi – where 41 Historically Black Colleges and Universities are located – have cut higher education spending by 30 percent or more in the last five years.

Louisiana schools experienced the steepest cuts of the southern states, shaving 41.2 percent from higher education budgets and North Carolina was least impacted with 14.6 percent.

Georgia, home to 10 HBCUs, has cut spending by nearly 30 percent in the last five years. The lack of resources at the state and local level and a fall in enrollment recently forced Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., to furlough its entire faculty and staff over spring break.

“Our states have a history of not investing in our Historically Black Colleges so that they will be comparable to the White schools,” said Lezli Baskerville, president the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an organization of the nation’s HBCU’s.

Even though federal financial aid and tax credits have also increased significantly, Oliff said that the federal government erred by cutting off emergency aid to states at a time when state revenues were far from fully recovered.

Some state schools were forced to raise tuition to try and make up the difference, but the increases in tuition haven’t been able to keep pace with the changes in lost revenue.

As schools try to balance their books, Oliff said that the price of attending a four-year public college has grown significantly faster than the growth in median income over the last two decades.

“Tuition increases, as steep as they have been, have made up for only part of the revenue loss resulting from state funding cuts. Public colleges and universities have often cut spending often in ways that threaten educational equality,” Oliff said.

According to the report, tuition at four-year colleges has increased by more than 50 percent in seven states; 25 percent in 18 states; and 15 percent in 40 states.