State higher education spending sees big decline

Only nine states reported increases in total state higher education spending.

State funding for higher education has declined because of a slow recovery from the recession and the end of federal stimulus money, according to a study released Monday.

Overall, spending declined by some $6 billion, or nearly 8 percent, over the past year, according to the annual Grapevine study by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.

The reduction was slightly lower, at 4 percent, when money lost from the end of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was not taken into account.

The funding reductions, seen across nearly every state, have resulted in larger class sizes and fewer course offerings at many universities and come as enrollment continues to rise.

A report released by the National Science Board last week found similar reductions in state higher education spending, with nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 101 top public research universities experiencing cuts in state funding between 2002 and 2010.

“It’s quite severe,” said Jose-Marie Griffiths, chairwoman of the National Science Board committee that produced the report and vice president for academic affairs at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. “The question is, are they ever going to recover to the level they were before? I think all of us are somewhat concerned because the future is a little bit uncertain.”

Only nine states reported increases in total state higher education spending, including the federal stimulus money. In the 41 states where there were funding reductions, declines varied drastically, from about 1 percent in North Carolina to 41 percent in New Hampshire.

The hardest-hit states include Arizona, Wisconsin and Louisiana, where spending reductions were nearly 20 percent or higher as federal stimulus money dried up.

James Palmer, editor of the Grapevine survey, said state capacity to finance higher education had also been reduced by diminished tax revenues.