If you thought the worst was over in terms of budget cuts and rising tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the country, think again. The latest projections from Moody’s Investors Service show that most institutions of higher education shouldn’t assume recoveries and relief from their states until at least 2013 and probably later.
In those states that have suffered the worst cuts, recovery may be even slower to kick in, as those are the same states that have had to cut spending in other areas as well. According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those states may first decide to increase spending in pensions, health care, and other services considered more essential than higher education. Only North Dakota, Texas and Alaska were listed by Moody’s as states where employment figures, a good projection of economic recovery, will return to stable levels before 2012.
Colleges may then be on their own for the next few years, leading to more cuts and creative cost cutting. (You may remember that students at Middlebury College make their own granola in the school’s bakery.) The economic picture is especially bleak for those states that have relief on federal stimulus funds to keep from making even deeper cuts. According to the Chronicle and Moody’s data, in 20 states, stimulus funds made up at least 5 percent of state support for public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. Three states have been particular reliant on stimulus funds – Colorado at 18 percent, Massachusetts at 12 percent and Arizona at 10 percent.
So what do these figures mean? For one, colleges need to figure out how to remain financially solvent with less state support. The Moody’s report also criticizes colleges for not doing more to make sure they won’t need to make deep cuts to their programs and faculties or, worse yet, close their doors. The latest school to do so is Wesley College, a small Mississippi college owned by the Congregational Methodist Church that was unable to find a way to cover about $2.7 million in debt. Southern Catholic College closed mid-semester due to a lack of funding, and may not raise those funds in time for fall. Nebraska’s Dana College will also close after the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools refused a buy-out of the college by a for-profit entity.