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May 05, 2010 11:00 AM The (Very) Long Run

By Daniel Luzer

State support for higher education is cyclical. When state legislatures shrink their funding for public universities it eventually comes back up again. This economic funding rule has helped many in academia put recent funding cuts in perspective.

Except it turns out that funding for higher education is only cyclical in a very long-term sense. And it’s getting longer. According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside higher Ed:

[R]esearch presented here Monday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association suggests that while you can still assume that what goes down will come up, you can’t assume it will happen any time soon. The research asserts that the time it takes states to restore deep cuts has grown longer in the last 20 years.
In the 1980s, they found no state stayed in the “risk set” (when it was waiting for funds to be restored) for longer than seven years, and that 76 percent were restored within five years. In the 1990s, they found that 42 percent had not been restored within five years. By this decade — even before the cuts of the last two years sent many more states into the “risk set” — the researchers found that only 40 percent of states are recovering in five years.

Realistically then, funding might not really be considered cyclical at all. The five-year funding recovery, once pretty standard across higher education, is now exceptional. The research presented at AERA also indicates that some states—those where universities jacked up tuition a great deal, those with strong central education boards, or those in the American West—take even longer than average to recover state funding.

That’s really bad news for families in California.

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