College Guide


April 10, 2012 5:26 PM The Real Problem

By Daniel Luzer

States are spending less money on public colleges than they did in the past. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjusted for inflation, state support for public colleges and universities has fallen by about 26 percent per full-time student in the last 20 years.

But this decline in funding hasn’t resulted in cost cutting. It’s increasingly students, and their parents, who are now funding college, largely through debt. Over the last 20 years, meanwhile, tuition at American public colleges and universities has increased 116 percent.

This is according to a report recently released by Demos, a think tank in New York.

The Demos report indicates that, though state funding for colleges “increased by $10.5 billion in absolute terms from 1990 to 2010, in relative terms state funding of higher education declined.”

It’s not really clear why this happened, at least from the report, but the paper suggests that continuing to divest in higher education could have disastrous consequences.

Failing to fund public colleges, Demos says, “threatens not just the future well-being of individual students, but also… the future economic health of states, as insufficient financial support contributes to low rates of college completion, depriving states of the educated workforces needed to thrive in the 21st century economy,” Demos explains.

The report recommends changing state tax policies to provide a consistent funding stream for public universities and says that “states leaders should align investments in higher education with the goal of completion.”

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Bob on April 11, 2012 6:44 AM:


    With all due respect to your Georgia roots, Southern Whites, the base of the Christian right, have long found biblical justification for their preferred economic system. If one can use the Bible to justify slavery, about anything can be justified � including laissez faire capitalism.

    "�slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5), or "tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect" (Titus 2:9).

  • Allison on April 11, 2012 8:32 AM:

    Could you put these numbers (tuition increase, public investment decrease) in equivalents? For example, what percentage of the increase in tuition is making up for the decrease in public investment? Since tuition has historically been such a small part of the cost of higher education, I can not determine if 116% increase in tuition is equivalent to a 26% decrease in public investment. So I am curious if the 116% increase in tuition is due to higher education costing a lot more than it did 20 years ago or if this is a result of decreasing public investment.

    Thank you

  • Daniel on April 12, 2012 11:30 AM:

    @Allison. The Demos study didn't address that. What you're asking is a complicated but very important question, however.