In Many States, Higher Education Has Been Left Behind Since the Recession

In 11 states, higher-education appropriations have not recovered at all from the worst years of the Great Recession, according to an annual report released on Tuesday by the association of State Higher Education Executive Officers.

Nationally, said the 2018 “State Higher Education Finance” report, state appropriations per student remained essentially flat from the 2017 to 2018 fiscal years. “Following five straight years of growth in state support, there was nearly no national change in state and local per-student support for higher education after adjusting for inflation,” the study found.

Tuition revenue, which had risen in all but two of the past 25 years, also remained flat compared with the previous fiscal year, the report said. State spending on student financial aid increased by nearly 9 percent, the fourth consecutive increase, according to the study.

But the impact of the recession still casts a long shadow on state appropriations for higher education, the report noted: “Ten years out from the start of the Great Recession, per-student higher education appropriations in the U.S. have only halfway recovered.”

Nationally, state appropriations, on average, fell more than $2,000 per student in the years after the recession, the report said, and remain nearly $1,000 below their pre-recession levels.

The situation is far worse in more than a fifth of states, where appropriations per student are still less than they were in 2012 or 2013, the low point for most state budgets. That’s after federal dollars — part of the $54-billion that went to states to avoid cuts in education spending — ran out, creating a fiscal cliff for public colleges.

The states where per-student spending still has not rebounded are Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Higher-education appropriations now exceed those before the recession in only six states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at

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