The Student Impact Project, an initiative of the youth advocacy group Young Invincibles, tracked trends in higher education finance in states across the country, and graded each state based on tuition levels, state funding per student, state aid to students, the financial burden to families and higher education spending as a portion of the total state budget. Connecticut's report card grade: D. In state-by-state reports published this week and reported by US News & World Report, the group found that on average, tuition at four-year public colleges and universities increased 37 percent between 2007 and 2013, which is three times the rate of inflation. The data indicated that 47 states spend less per student today than they did before the Great Recession.
Connecticut ranks 33rd among the nation’s 50 states in support for higher education. Overall, just four states – Wyoming, New York, Alaska and Oklahoma – received a total grade equivalent to an A, while 10 got a B, 13 got a C, 12 got a D and 11 received an F, US News reported.
Overall, the state’s average in the five categories was 63 percent, which placed it ahead of only 16 states, including New Hampshire, which placed last, and Vermont, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon. Connecticut received an F in the “aid for students” category, D in “state appropriation average” and “tuition” categories, C- in “Higher Ed as a Priority,” and the state's highest grade, C+, in “Burden on Families Average.”
New Hampshire, which at a 17 percent overall grade scored lowest in the country, spends the least amount of money per student than any other state ($1,708), and has cut the budget almost in half since the recession, according to the report. New Hampshire also provides no state aid to students, and spends 2 percent of its overall budget on higher education. In Connecticut, the report indicated, that figure is 11 percent.
A report issued last month by the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Senate found “persistent state budget constraints have limited funding for public colleges” across the country. The result, according to the GAO report: “Students and their families are now bearing the cost of college as a larger portion of their total family budgets.”
A report by Connecticut’s Office of Higher Education in March 2014 found that for the 2013-14 academic year, “UConn’s increase of 5.8 percent for in-state commuting students compares to a national average of 3.7 percent for state flagship institutions. CSCU’s increase of 5.4 percent for in-state commuting students attending its State Universities compares to a national average of 4.1 percent for similar types of institutions; the Community Colleges’ increase of 5.5 percent for in-state commuting students compares to a national average of 4.5 percent for like institutions.”
The Connecticut report also noted that “from 2009 to 2014, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates have increased 24.7 percent at the Connecticut State Universities, 26.9 percent at the Community Colleges, and 28.7 percent at UConn.” Last fall, Connecticut’s largest public college system (CSCU) said it will need an 11 percent increase in its base-level state funding for the next fiscal year if they are to keep an anticipated tuition-and-fee hike to 2 percent. If additional state funding is not provided, steeper tuition hikes are possible.
From fiscal years 2003 through 2012, the GAO report outlined, state funding for all public colleges decreased, while tuition rose. Specifically, state funding decreased by 12 percent overall while median tuition rose 55 percent across all public colleges. Tuition revenue for public colleges increased from 17 percent to 25 percent, surpassing state funding by fiscal year 2012 (see chart below).
In their report, “State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability,” GAO identified several potential approaches that the federal government could use to expand incentives to states to improve affordability, such as creating new grants, providing more consumer information on affordability, or changing federal student aid programs. “Each of these approaches may have advantages and challenges, including cost implications for the federal government and consequences for students,” the report noted.
The report also indicates that “state grant aid directly affects students in that it can reduce their out-of-pocket expenses for college… state grant aid, both merit- and need-based, has positive effects on enrollment.” The results of one program, in Washington State, cited by GAO “suggests that receiving the aid increased a student’s probability of enrolling in college by nearly 14 to 19 percentage points.”
Footnote to the story: to underscore the data, US News is running a video news story broadcast on FOX Connecticut, reporting on possible tuition increases at the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities. The story, which is not referenced by date, was aired two years ago.