Public-University Costs Soar
By Ruth Simon
Tuition at public colleges jumped last year by a record amount as state governments slashed school funding, the latest sign of strain in the U.S. higher-education sector.
The average amount that students at public colleges paid in tuition, after state and institutional grants and scholarships, climbed 8.3% last year, the biggest jump on record, according to a report based on data from all public institutions in all 50 states to be released Wednesday by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Median tuition rose 4.5%.
The average state funding per student, meanwhile, fell by more than 9%, the steepest drop since the group began collecting the data in 1980. Median funding fell 10%. During the recession, states began cutting support for higher education, and the trend accelerated last year.
Rising tuition costs are "another example of the bind that public institutions are in," said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. "Unless we make public funding a higher priority, the funds are going to have to come from parents and students."
To be sure, last year's decline in state funding nationwide was driven heavily by cutbacks in California, which has the largest state system and lashed funding per student by 14.3% last year. Not including California, per-student funding fell 8% and tuition rose 6.3%.
Paul Lingenfelter, president of the higher-education association, noted that 31 states increased higher education funding in 2012-13, and a number have proposed an increase for the coming year as well.
Kaylen Hendrick, a senior at Florida State University in Tallahassee majoring in environmental studies, is graduating in three years rather than four in order to keep costs and borrowing down.
"Growing up, I thought if I made good enough grades, that college would not be a problem," said Ms. Hendrick, 20 years old, who has taken out about $15,000 in student loans and works 20 hours a week to pay for college.
State funding for the State University System of Florida has declined by more than $1 billion over the last six years, even as enrollment has grown by more than 35,000 students, a spokeswoman for the system said.
Nationally, average tuition, after institutional grants and scholarships, increased to $5,189 in 2011-12 from $4,793 a year earlier, according to the report, which is based on the 2011-12 academic year and adjusted its figures for inflation. Tuition revenue accounted for a record 47% of educational funding at public colleges last year.
The price increases at state schools come at a time when many private colleges are reining in price increases and awarding generous scholarships to attract families worried about rising debt loads and a still shaky job market. In some cases, state tuition has risen so much that costs approach what students might pay at a private college.
At Pennsylvania State University's main campus, in-state undergraduate students receiving financial aid paid an average of $21,342 after grants and scholarships in 2010-11, according to the U.S. Department of Education, up 12% since 2008-09. State funding now accounts for less than 14% of the school's educational budget, down from as much as 62% in 1970-71. "When the appropriation is cut, tuition rises," a Penn State spokeswoman said.
In addition to raising tuition, many states have pared spending. The California State University System declined to take the vast majority of transfer students this spring and has turned away about 20,000 students who qualified for admission during each of the past three years, a spokesman said.
In Kentucky, higher tuition prices make up for just half of the loss in state funding, said Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees the state's system.
Kentucky's colleges have increased efforts to promote online education, and are also taking steps that could hurt academic quality, such as reducing course offerings and increasing the use of adjunct faculty. The University of Kentucky is tapping revenue from its athletic department to fund construction of a new science building, he added.