College Costs More, but Per-Student Spending Is Down

State funding for schools has dropped.

March 7, 2013— -- Public colleges and universities are spending less per student today than they have in more than 25 years.

The cuts come in response to decreased education funding. According to a new report by the nonpartisan, nonprofit State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), financial support for public colleges and universities at the state and local levels has dropped dramatically. It fell by 7 percent last year, and by 9 percent the year before.

Schools, as a result, have cut the amount they spend per student to just shy of $6,000. The cuts to per-pupil spending, however, are not enough to make up for the drop in school funding, so tuitions have skyrocketed.

In essence, schools have saddled students with more of the cost of attending school. According to the report, nearly half the cost of attending a public college or university is borne by students, more than double the student burden a quarter century ago.

The report also noted that, while tuition revenue is at an all time high, total educational revenue--meaning tuition plus state and local funding--has dropped by nearly a thousand dollars in the last year, to $11,085.

Combined state and local funding for higher education was just over $81 billion in 2012, while the amount collected from students was about $61 billion. That latter number was closer to $40 billion in 2008. That's an increase of roughly 50 percent in the amount collected from students in just four years.

Enrollment has declined too, but not because people don't want to go to college. Some families simply can't afford the increased cost.

"The tapering off of enrollment growth in 2012 seems to be more related to enrollment caps and cost increases than to decreases in student demand for higher education," Paul Lingenfelter, president of SHEEO, said in a statement.

About 70 percent of college and university students enroll in public institutions. Private universities may offer more scholarships, but they're often significantly more expensive overall.

The report cautions that other countries are investing heavily in higher-education institutions, and that the United States, with a workforce that is already lamenting the lack of qualified science and engineering job applicants, may fall behind.

"Other countries are rapidly improving the postsecondary education of their citizens," said Marshall Hill, chair of SHEEO's Executive Committee and Executive Director of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission in a statement. "If the United States falls further behind in either quality or the number of students who enroll and graduate it will not be easy to catch up."