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State Higher Ed. Funding Cuts and The Effects on Students

Nathan Collins, Research Intern SBNC

April 2021


Detailed in a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is an intrinsic correlation between a decrease in state funding of higher education and the widening inequality gap among college students. The study attributes a multitude of different reasons as to why, aside from lack of funding, this gap widens. Some of the reasoning is linked to the rise in tuition deterring students from enrolling in four-year universities, leading to a surge in applicants at community college and two-year institutions. The major issue, and the biggest problem stemming from both the “deep state funding cuts” and the rise in published college tuition, is the lack of resources available to marginalized communities. If the state has no money to fund public and community higher education institutions and four-year universities continue to raise their prices, a clear obstacle is created for students from vulnerable communities.


The brief begins by noting the trends in state funding cuts to state schools. The report notes that “overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges...in 2018” is “ $6.6 billion below what it was in 2008 just before the Great Recession fully took hold, after adjusting for inflation” (CBPP, Oct. 2019). The data given depicts a clear illustration of budget cut trends in the last 10 years, both during and after the recession. Along with a history of budget cuts, a trend of what the CBPP calls “published tuition” costs has forced students to fund a larger part of their education, or seek alternative forms of education, like two-year institutions. The problem with the latter, an increase in “published tuition” costs, is that it serves as a deterring factor for many different groups of prospective higher education students. The CBPP notes that “while published tuition may be the first price a student encounters, it is rarely the actual price they face when affording college” (CBPP, Oct. 2019).


The study notes the link between gaining some form of higher education credential and the prospects for income and individual job market viability and ends by highlighting key initiatives for states to take to increase affordability and accessibility in higher education for students from vulnerable communities. These initiatives include investing in a high-quality public education system “ by increasing funding for public two- and four-year colleges” as well as prioritizing need-based aid programs rather than merit-based scholarships. In my research, I came across a more recent article from the Center for American Progress that frames these issues in respect to the newly passed “American Rescue Plan”. Giving a background in individual states' disinvestment of state-funded public education, the article creates a stark realization on the status of higher education in the United States. This article illustrates the adverse effects if more action is not taken on part of the federal government, noting that “without additional aid to states from the federal government” states would be subject to “a $290 billion budget shortfall for FY 2021” which ends in June, “and an additional loss of $155 billion for FY 2022” (Article, Center for American Progress, March 2021). The article asserts that although there are decreasing trends in state funding for public institutions, the newly passed stimulus plan will help to offset these adverse effects, however only in the short term.


Finally, a report by the Center for American Progress done in 2018 finds that “students of color disproportionately go to schools that spend less on them” possibly leading to the trends of disparity resources for students of marginalized backgrounds. This article links the inequity between students of color, and their counterparts to disparities throughout individual lifetimes. The conclusion of a conglomerate of data and these articles is that the narrative of inequity at the higher education level can be linked to current economic trends, as well as individual inequities at a state by state and student by student basis. These factors combined lead to a narrative of more barriers of entry to the higher academic arena for students from vulnerable communities.


Work Cited:

Garcia, Sara. “Gaps in College Spending Shortchange Students of Color.” Center for American Progress, 5 Apr. 2018, www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/reports/2018/04/05/448761/gaps-college-spending-shortchange-students-color/.

Yuen, Victoria. “American Rescue Plan Could Help Prevent State Public Higher Education Cuts.” Center for American Progress, 10 Mar. 2021, www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/reports/2021/03/10/496936/american-rescue-plan-help-prevent-state-public-higher-education-cuts/.

| By Michael Mitchell, et al. “State Higher Education Funding Cuts Have Pushed Costs to Students, Worsened Inequality.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 24 Oct. 2019, www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/state-higher-education-funding-cuts-have-pushed-costs-to-students.