The loss in funding faced by state and community colleges this year may not be a one-time thing. A report issued this week by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) indicates that state budget cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent. With many attempting to eliminate multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, cuts to education are almost certain to happen across the country, and based on data collected by SHEEO, they are likely to continue into the future.
Per-student state higher education spending peaked in 2001, when it hit the highest level in inflation-adjusted dollars since data was first collected in 1983. A recession in 2001 prompted drops in education spending that continued until 2006, when spending began to grow again until 2008, though per-student funding did not return to 2001 levels before another recession interfered.
In response to cuts in funding of around 7 percent between 1998 and 2008 and increases in enrollment of around 25 percent over the same period, tuition revenue has risen 20 percent. The report suggests this trend is likely to continue, with funding potentially falling off permanently and tuition hikes continuing as a result of this year's budget cuts. Thus, the burden is passed on to already cash-strapped students and families, who are already facing the prospect of needing more student loans due to losses of income and declines in college savings plans.
The SHEEO expressed hope that the stimulus package currently moving through Congress might mitigate this effect. However, the version passed yesterday by the Senate eliminated billions of dollars that would have gone to offset state budget cuts, so the positive impact on higher education could be less than is hoped. Additionally, members of Congress have expressed frustration with rising tuition rates, especially given tuition's likelihood to continue to outpace increases in Federal Pell Grants, such as the new funding currently included in the stimulus.