Students footing more of bill for public higher education

But with a record 43 percent of educational revenue now coming from students—nearly double the percentage in the mid-1980s—a symbolically important crossover point, where students on average pay more than half the true cost of their education, may now be just a few years away.

The SHEEO figures show that in 20 states, public colleges already get more per student from students themselves than from state and local governments. In Virginia, for instance, a decade ago public colleges collected $3,758 per student in tuition in 2011 dollars, and state and local governments kicked in more than $2 for every $1 collected from students.

By 2011, tuition revenue was up $6,430 per student and public funds just $5,225 per student—one-third less than a decade before.

A decade ago in Michigan, meanwhile, public colleges got more than $9,000 (also in 2011 dollars) per student, and collected around $6,000 in tuition per student. Last year the state provided barely $5,000, and students kicked in nearly $9,500 each on average.

“Students and their families who also have financial pressures are still making the sacrifice to come to higher education,” said SHEEO president Paul Lingenfelter. “But you have to worry about people who should be improving their employability who are not participating because of the cost.”

He added: “Certainly there’s a lot of pressure on institutions to stop raising tuition. But it’s very hard to offer students a quality education and also keep absorbing more students if there are inadequate revenues to support that.”

Some states are starting to replenish higher education budgets this year, but others are imposing more cuts. SHEEO says despite an apparent economic recovery, the next few years may be even more challenging now that the last of the federal stimulus were spent by last fall.

Though fiscal 2012 figures aren’t included in this report, preliminary data collected by Illinois State University showed state appropriations for higher education down more than 7 percent.

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