Tag: State Higher Education Executive Officers

Marketplace Map Gives Half the Story

Last week, American Public Media’s Marketplace posted an interactive map—attached to a much-appreciated interview with me—enabling users to see how much states spent per public-college student in 2011, and how that had changed over the the last twenty-five years. It cites as its sources the State Higher Education Executive Officers and me. Unfortunately, it gives only half of the story I was trying to relate with my crunching of SHEEO’s data: per-pupil state and local spending has generally been on a downward trend, but that does not come close to fully explaining rising prices.

To get the full breakdown of the data you can access my calculations here. Note, though—as I wrote in the blog post to which my crunching was originally attached—I didn’t put the spreadsheet together for widespread dissemination, at least not to appear authoritative. I think it’s on target, but I didn’t triple-check it as I would have a more formal data analysis. More importantly, the key point is that while most states have seen decreasing per-pupil allocation trends—primarily because of very large enrollment spurts—they have much more than made up for those losses through tuition increases, bringing in roughly two dollars for every dollar lost. Taxpayers aren’t cheap— colleges are greedy.

My Advice? Don’t Blame State Taxpayers

I don’t have any great advice to offer those going through the college acceptance wringer, other than to make sure that going to college—and doing college-level work—is really what you want to do. If it’s not, don’t waste your time and money; like so many who’ve gone before you, you’ll likely end up with no degree, a degree you don’t want to use, and quite possibly lots of debt.

That gets me to my main point: Blaming high tuition prices on state legislatures, as University of South Florida education professor Sherman Dorn—but hardly just Mr. Dorn—does is simply wrong. State and local appropriations to public colleges and universities have risen substantially over the last 25 years.

According to the latest data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, inflation-adjusted state and local outlays to colleges for general operations rose from $57.7 billion in 1986 to $74.2 billion in 2011, a 29 percent increase. That’s “increase,” not “decrease.”

The one way you could characterize state and local funding as decreasing is on a per-pupil basis, but that doesn’t reflect the heartless budget cutting Mr. Dorn implicates. It reflects huge enrollment increases—enrollment that often ends with no degree or appreciable learning. And even on a per-pupil basis it would be wrong to write as if we’ve seen decades of constant cuts: Spending tends to go up and down with the business cycle, and 2001 saw record high state and local spending per pupil for the 25-year period.

I hope students waiting to hear from colleges have to sweat things out as little as possible. I also hope people will stop wrongly turning up the heat on state and local taxpayers. When you look at the data, high prices clearly aren’t their fault

C/P from the National Journal’sEducation Experts” blog.