Something about education everyone should know

A misconception I wish could be corrected: most Americans don’t realize state funding for education has declined.

Most Americans believe state spending for public universities and colleges has, in fact, increased or at least held steady over the last 10 years, according to a new survey by American Public Media.

They’re wrong. States have collectively scaled back their annual higher education funding by $9 billion during that time, when adjusted for inflation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or CBPP, reports.

That’s right, we’re not rolling in the cash, Scrooge-McDuck-style, out here in the ivory tower. In fact, we’ve been whittling off bits of the tower and taking them down to the pawn shop to try and make ends meet. The painful decline in state support has been a major driver behind all the bad news that people hear about higher ed: the rising tuition costs, greater student debt, and and the increasing reliance on piece-work by adjuncts. State legislatures have felt secure in hacking apart allotments for education for years because they know their know-nothing electorate (especially in Republican districts) will approve, and because they know we’ll tighten our belts and keep working as hard as we can to keep the whole enterprise afloat.


  1. weylguy says

    God-fearing Republicans believe that if creationism is force-taught in all American colleges and universities, taxpayer money will come a-rolling in. You wanna eat, Dr. Myers? Bring yer Bible into class.

  2. starfleetdude says

    It’s not just less state support too, but increasing enrollments that have driven steep hikes in student tuition and fees. This is something that’s been going on for decades, although it’s gotten even worse in the past ten years. Throw in continued administrative bloat and spending on fancy new sports facilities and it’s no wonder higher education costs so much.

  3. tallgrass05 says

    I started working at my Kansas university in 1999, when state support supplied 49% of the university’s budget. That state support is down to 28%. Tuition goes up, students assume debt or go to cheaper junior colleges, or enrollment declines. So what does the university do? Spend money and create another administrative position–strategic enrollment administrator.

  4. Artor says

    At least we’re winning the War on Education! MAGA!*

    *Moscow Advises Giant Asshole.

  5. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    increasing enrollments that have driven steep hikes in student tuition and fees.

    Dafuq? Increasing enrollment wouldn’t increase the amount each student pays.

  6. starfleetdude says

    @5, it does when you think of how X state dollars helps subsidize Y students education. Keeping X fixed while increasing Y means a lower subsidy per student, so tuition has to go up to make up for the decreased subsidy.

  7. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Wait, I thought MAGA meant:
    My Attorney Got Arrested
    or Make America Grovel Again
    or Make America Grope again

  8. unclefrogy says

    of all the self-destructive things that the united states has been doing all the time I have been living since WWII the reduction of the support for education is one of the worst or most effective. It is very difficult to undue or repair the damage it which is the result and it is self perpetuating in that more decisions are made out of ignorance by the under-educated population.

    I am beginning to think that theere has been a fundimental mistake in understanding what WWII and the following cold war were about especially the later. the conflict was not about public property and private property , the cold war was not about social ism vs capitalism even if that iss the rational given to day not at least with regards to the U.S. It was about the principles on which the U.S. experiment was founded on democratic controll of government on this idea that the people should decide on how they will order their lives.
    That idea under-lied our civil war.
    it was the basic of the struggle of the cold war it was the only difference between the state capitalism of the soviet dictatorship and our democratic republic which is now being co-opted into a state, dominated by private capitalism controlled by an increasingly small number of wealthy.
    the ignorant and under-educated are being fed a steady diet of resentment and fear by those who can deliver that feeling of definiteness and surety while playing up the fear and resentment.
    all made easier by failing to support education of the people across the board.
    uncle frogy

  9. chrislawson says


    Increasing enrolments can drive up tuition fees in a market-oriented education system. More enrolments means more demand, so schools can push up their fees.

    An example I observed directly: In the early 2000s, John Howard introducedd a new funding systyem that injected huge federal cash grants into private schools. The argument was that this would make private education more affordable to middle class Australian families who wanted “more choice” in education. At the same time they stifled funding for public schools (which are a state, not federal, responsibility but still highly dependent on federal funding) which meant that the average government school became more underresourced and with higher student numbers.* Our local high school has to teach the kids in shifts because they don’t have enough teaching space to have the whole cohort in class at the same time.

    Meanwhile the private schools took their money and you’ll never guess what they did…they lowered their fees to match their new income stream. Whoops! No they didn’t! What they did instead was buy up assets and convert them into expensive facilities. Most of the prestige private schools in capital cities bulldozed half-blocks of houses (in expensive suburbs I should add!) to put in sports and training complexes that rivalled professional sports clubs, or new science labs, or professional-quality theatre stages. This of course meant the discrepancy between private and public was even greater…which meant even more people wanted to get their kids into private school…which meant the schools could not just drive up fees but were charging sometimes thousands of non-refundable dollars just to give a guaranteed place as soon as a child was born!

    In the last 10 years, wages have grown 34% but private school fees have grown 61%.

    This year the cost of a Year 12 student at SCEGGS Darlinghurst hit $38,214 in tuition alone. This is not tax deductible. So to afford to send, say, two children to Darlinghurst you need to have over $75,000 in disposable income per year. We’re not talking about a weird exclusive school for billionaires here. The school has about 900 children enrolled from kindergarten to Y12. And there are many other schools in Sydney, Melbourne/Geelong, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth with similar fees.

    The Howard government diverted money from general revenue into subsidising the most wealthy schools in Australia with the effect of making them more exclusive rather than more affordable. Brilliant political tactics. Horrific ethics.

    *Note that the state governments bear a fair share of the blame for this. They kept taking money from developers to build new suburbs but did not put much of that money back into supporting infrastructure. Public transport, roads, schools, hospitals…wherever possible these critical services were just added to the burden of neighbouring suburbs rather than having new facilities built.

  10. Ichthyic says

    Increasing enrolments can drive up tuition fees in a market-oriented education system. More enrolments means more demand, so schools can push up their fees.

    that’s not what is going on at public universities AT ALL.

    as enrollment increases, COSTS increase because you need new classrooms, facilities, instructors, administrators, to compensate. with ever LOWERING income from the state, and mandated enrollment percentages to even get THAT funding, it means the money must come from somewhere else.

    it’s got fuck all to do with supply and demand.

  11. says

    Exactly. My discipline has a commitment to keep class sizes below 50, even for intro courses…so if we commit 2 faculty to teach cell bio, and enrollment rises substantially above 100, we’d have to add a third faculty member to the class, increasing costs 50%. More likely, though, since the administration wouldn’t dream of hiring new faculty to meet demand, we’d say, OK, I guess our new limit is 70 students, trading off quality to shave costs.

    Of course, even that won’t work. We have labs designed for 18 students in a section…do we just cram 24 in there? That’s where everything starts to break.

  12. says

    Here’s what it was like when I graduated from HS (1966) and applied to colleges: Full year tuition at my state university (Rutgers) was $400 for NJ residents. No kidding! If I had lived in California and could get admitted to a UC school (Berkeley, UCLA, etc…) tuition was $0. Zero! Again, no kidding. And tuition for a full year at any of the Ivies ranged from $1800 to a maximum of $2100. Again, no kidding. It was actually possible to “work your way” through a great state university with part-time work during the school year and full time work over the summer. That’s no longer possible – and the whole country is poorer for it!

  13. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    KenMiller #12, amen. Public Ivy grad BS ’72, higher degrees public Universities too.

  14. jrkrideau says

    Back in the 1970’s I was at the University of Waterloo. One of my roommates was a co-op engineering student. One of his worries was where to invest some of his money to avoid a higher income tax!

  15. schweinhundt says

    Yes, this. I was able to earn my B.A. debt-free thanks to a combo of government funds and parental support. Meanwhile, (at least some) libertarians love to argue that tuition has risen because of government-backed student loans. However, based on the numbers I’ve looked at–comparing state universities to private/endowment-backed schools–that hypothesis does not seem to match reality.

  16. mmason0071 says

    In the past 20 years or so higher education has become a vicious cycle contributing to the fleecing of the middle class. State governments, usually Republican, cut funding so the schools have to raise tuition. To pay the rapidly increasing fees students have to take on larger and larger loans. These loans are largely protected by the government from even bankruptcy filings, so the banks are almost guaranteed to make a lot of money off them. And where does this bank profit go – to politicians.

  17. unclefrogy says

    hold the phone let me get this straight a libertarian hypothesis does not match reality! how could that be? it is the one true religion or something
    uncle frogy

  18. raven says

    The ever increasing cost of a college degree has been a problem I’ve long noticed and complained about.

    I graduated with a college degree in the 1970’s from a good state school, debt free!!!
    Tuition was heavily subsidized by the state and my first year’s tuition was in the hundreds of dollars total.

    And as noted above by several other people, this was not unusual for the time.
    School loans weren’t even ubiquitous and infinitely large yet.

  19. raven says

    It’s something of an ancient joke and a cliche that the older generations such as Boomers like myself and PZ had it harder than young people as students
    We had to walk to school in the snow, up hill, both ways.
    Telephones had cords, rotary dials, and no computer chips or screens.

    One can make the argument that these days, it’s even less true.
    The next generations quite often ended up starting adult life with huge loads of student debt.
    Due to a law favorable to the banks, you can’t discharge these in bankruptcy.
    Some people will die of old age still paying off their student loans.

    It’s a huge problem for them and IMO, partially explains our falling birth rates.
    A lot of my friends ended up paying off their kid’s loans just so they could get on with their lives without dragging a huge anchor behind them.

  20. chrislawson says

    My apologies. I was responding to the general issue of increasing enrolments and tuition fees. I wasn’t specifically talking public universities in the US, which I agree is a very different environment. The story of Australian private school subsidies from general taxation is one of my bugbears and I find it extraordinary that almost nobody in Australia ever talks about the horrendous diversion of commonwealth money to the very richest stratum of society. Didn’t mean to derail.

  21. jrkrideau says

    @21 raven
    Telephones had…rotary dials
    Wow. Ours had a crank. The party line feature was nice though; it was a bit like an early version of Facebook. It let you keep tabs on close friends and neighbours.

  22. magistramarla says

    I’m still paying on the student and parent loans for my two youngest. The oldest girl did it all (BS, two Master’s and a PHD) on scholarships and hard work. The second girl went to work for a large company, and while working her way up, leveraged the company to pay for her Bachelor’s and a Master’s. The son joined the Marines at the age of 17. He has used his military training and GI bill to wind up with excellent jobs in software development.
    The two youngest girls have had a much more difficult time. The older of the two still doesn’t have a degree. She’s had to deal with a spiteful ex and a series of low-level jobs while being a single Mom. She still hopes to go back to school, and she’s required a lot of help from us.
    The youngest quit school to marry an Airman and live overseas while raising a child. Thanks to new GI bill rules, she has been able to use her husband’s funds to complete her degree. She will graduate in May.
    It’s taken me over 10 years, but I’ve paid off a couple of those student loans, and I will pay off the last two in the next three years. My husband and I are the same age as PZ. We should be free of those loans in time tor retire!

  23. magistramarla says

    BTW, my husband and I also attended college in the 70s, and our tuition at a private university was not that expensive. I had a full ride for tuition and other costs were easily handled with grants and work-study.
    The hubby had parents who paid for his first two years, but we were responsible for the two years after we were married. I introduced him to the joys of grants and work-study. We only had one small student loan.
    He has since used the military job to gain a third Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a PHD.
    Our children have had a much more difficult and expensive time of it to get educations.