States Shifting More College Costs onto Students

College Student

March 4, 2014

Students battling the rising costs of college may not see relief any time soon. That's because, according to a comprehensive report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, state support for public education is currently on the chopping block due to shrinking state budgets, shifting priorities, and other factors.

As is commonly the case, much of the problem is an overall lack of funding to all state resources, not just public higher education. When budgets are tight, state and local governments reexamine their spending priorities and liabilities. And when this happens, public colleges and universities are often left holding the short stick with fewer funds to go around.

Another problem plaguing state budgets is the growing cost of entitlement programs that were created long ago. One example is Medicaid. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only one in ten state dollars were spent on Medicaid in 1987, compared to 2012, when nearly one in four dollars was spent on the entitlement.

These issues, along with concerns over the discretionary spending of colleges and universities as a whole, have led to a decline in per-student funding support for higher education at the state level, when adjusted for inflation.

One example is the state of Michigan. MLive reported that state spending per student in Michigan averages out to $4,608, compared to the average cost per enrollee of $9,871 each. This statistic pushed the state into the 40th spot in terms of per-student college funding. Commenting on the state's ranking, Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, told MLive, "Michigan, and colleges all across the country, were faced with increased competition for shrinking budgets and we didn't fare well."

Michigan now hopes to turn the tides with a new initiative that would increase public college funding, if certain conditions are met. Governor Rick Snyder's budget for the 2015 fiscal year allows for a 6.1 percent increase in higher education funding, provided all stipulations of the agreement are agreed to, including limits on tuition increases within the state. Boulus hopes that the funding surge in his state could lead to a national trend.

"We led the nation in the severity of cuts over the last decade, and now that we're seeing a very healthy increase, wouldn't it be good if we could lead the nation on the upswing," he stated.

Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out that states who continue hacking away at funding for higher education could see fewer students attending college. As author Karen Weise argues, states who continually ask students to increase their share of the burden may find that they're asking too much. "That means leaving behind students who would have gone to college, found good jobs, started businesses, paid taxes, and generally helped to drive the economy," she wrote, adding that "an undereducated workforce isn't cheap."

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"An Era of Neglect," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 3, 2014, Karin Fischer and Jack Stripling,

"From Public Good to Private Good," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 3, 2014, Sara Hebel,

"How States Are Shifting College Costs to Students," Bloomberg Businessweek, March 3, 2014, Karen Weise,

"Michigan among states that shifted cost of college onto students, report shows," MLive, March 3, 2014, Brian Smith,

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