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Are Things Actually Looking Up When It Comes to State Higher Ed Funding?

State Funding for Higher Education

As the conversation about the cost of higher education in America reaches a fever pitch, an annual survey of state financing found that all but three states increased funding for public higher education this year. The 2020 fiscal year saw an overall five percent increase in state higher ed funding, the largest increase since 2015.  Public institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities took a major financial hit after the recession when state funding budgets were slashed.

A key finding in a 2019 issue brief from the American Council on Education and United Negro College Fund research, is that Public HBCUs rely on federal, state, and local funding more heavily than their non-HBCU counterparts (54 percent of overall revenue versus 38 percent). This means that any uptick in state funding, makes a difference for HBCU resources to attract, enroll and retain more students.

Grapevine, a joint venture between the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) conducts this survey every year and found that the three states which lowered funding only did so by a combined 13.7 percent. Alaska lowered funding by a staggering 11.2 percent while New York and Hawaii shaved off 2.2 and 0.3 percent respectively.

Of the remaining locales, the District of Columbia, home to HBCUs Howard University and the University of District of Columbia, reported increases under five percent. Nineteen states had increases between five and ten percent. Finally, four states reported increases of over 10 percent. 

“It’s a fairly positive report this year, with a five percent increase from last fiscal year to this fiscal year,” said Jim Palmer, the survey’s editor and a professor of educational administration and foundations at Illinois State. “… When you contrast that just a couple years ago, in 2018, about 18 states had reported declines in funding, so we see that funding increases are more evenly spread across the states.”

Still, it can be hard to say what effect this will have on the overall affordability of public college. 

Isn’t that the real reason this is such a huge deal?

For example, Colorado was one of the four states to increase funding by more than 10 percent, but the overall cost of a degree at University of Colorado Boulder (one of the top 10 most popular schools in the state) still went up almost 25 percent between 2009 and 2020. 

Yes, appropriations are up almost 10 percent from two years ago, but that could actually end up just being money spent on services and facilities that are supposed to make schools better and more appealing, yet still more expensive. 

That is less encouraging when in America, cost, not quality, seems to be the issue plaguing higher education. 

Additional read – 5 HBCU Funding Trends to Watch 

*Article by Raz Robinson, journalist and freelance writer, based in New York City. Connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @razrobinson or send an email to Rrob0904 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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