Higher Education

Advocates say feds can force states to increase spending on higher ed

The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

NEW ORLEANS—If federal policymakers are serious about giving all students access to affordable higher education, they should leverage some of the billions of dollars in existing federal funding to make states stop cutting their budgets for public universities and colleges.

And public universities themselves have to do a better job persuading the public that supporting higher education is essential to economic development.

That was the dual message to top administrators from, and lobbyists who represent, public universities and community colleges, which are pushing to reverse years of funding declines that have resulted in increases in tuition and reductions in staffing and programs.

“We’re just trying to get the federal government to realize that this great diversity is going to be over, because we won’t have state universities in 50 years” at the current rate of disinvestment, said F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of Louisiana State University.

Related: Why two states have poured money into public higher education

Alexander urged that a portion of the nearly $180 billion a year in federal financial aid be leveraged to push states to restore their funding for public higher education as a condition of getting or continuing to receive the money.

He equated this to the stipulation that came with federal stimulus grants given to the states at the onset of the great recession obliging them to generally maintain their higher-education budgets without significantly increasing tuition.

“It’s time for us to get people to wake up,” Alexander said. “If they really want affordable higher education, the best thing they can do is use some of that [billions in federal financial aid] to force the states to put some money into higher education.”

Forty-eight of the 50 states are allocating a collective average of 23 percent less on public higher education than they did before the start of the recession, according to the independent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Related: Poorest states cut what experts say could help the most: higher ed

“At this rate, states will stop supporting higher education at all,” Alexander said.

Those 48 include Alexander’s home state, Louisiana, host to a strategy conference he addressed that brought together four groups representing public higher-education institutions: the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

The event came on the eve of a White House summit meant to focus attention on improving college graduation rates. It’s a follow-up to a White House summit in January that urged universities to improve access for low-income students.

Louisiana has cut higher-education funding in six of the last seven years, by a total of $459 million, or 28 percent, according to the Center for American Progress. But it reversed that trend this year when universities made the case that producing more graduates was essential to the state’s economy.

“Economic development was the buzzword” in getting lawmakers to begin to stop the bleeding and increase the higher-education budget by 6 percent, or $140 million, Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana System, told the conference.

Related: Colleges that pledged to help poor families have been doing the opposite

That’s an argument public universities and colleges have been making in states that have increased higher-education funding. But those in several of the poorest states have not, and they continue to cut their higher-education spending.

“What higher education has not been as successful as we should have been over the last few years had been in connecting” the need for producing educated graduates with their impact on economic health, said Woodley. “We cannot have economic prosperity if we continue to be in a freefall and get a cut every year, sometimes twice a year.”

Of the increase in spending in Louisiana, $40 million is to increase the supply of engineers, computer scientists, accountants, and other workers in high demand.

“In higher education we need to be more sensitive and responsive to the concerns that happen in our economy and in our workforce,” Woodley said. “In general, higher education does a really poor job of articulating our value proposition.”

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters

Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education… See Archive

Letters to the Editor

Send us your thoughts

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.





No letters have been published at this time.