Public Colleges and Universities Need Federal Relief

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F. King Alexander is president of Oregon State University and the former president of Louisiana State University, California State University at Long Beach and Murray State University.

Since the early 1980s, when public higher education funding was at a high point, the nation has experienced five economic recessions. The result has been a recurring pattern of state disinvestment in public colleges and universities that has resulted in many long-term consequences.

According to a report from Postsecondary Education Opportunity and the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, the defunding of public higher education has been underway since 1979, when state investment effort peaked at $10.39 per $1,000 of average state personal income levels. Measured this way, in 2019 state investment effort has declined to $5.44 per $1,000 of state personal income or by 52.4 percent for public higher education. Currently, public higher education is experiencing one of its lowest funding levels in state investment effort since 1965. This has resulted in a recurring pattern of student tuition and fee increases leading to unprecedented student loan indebtedness.

Such trends in state disinvestment have resulted in the creation of many state and federal policies aimed at addressing growing concerns about college costs by middle-class voters. These policy developments include the creation of over a dozen substantial state merit-based scholarship programs and a massive expansion of federal tax credits like the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which accounts for approximately $20 billion in federal expenditures. Most recently, recurring state disinvestment and resulting years of student tuition growth have led to a national dialogue known as the “free college” movement, which has been embraced by President-elect Joe Biden.

Now that the election is over, the U.S. Congress must turn its attention to the fact that our states are overwhelmed with fiscal challenges caused by a global pandemic and a new economic recession. Nationwide, most public colleges and universities are bracing for another series of state budget reductions. That is why Congress must act swiftly to stabilize state educational budgets in order to protect students and families as it has successfully done in the past.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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