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Students Expected to Pay More as Economy Hurts Colleges

Two reports out this week reflect the tough financial reality that many colleges are facing in this economy—and its impact on students.

Students and families are getting squeezed with higher tuition, as schools try to make ends meet with less federal and state revenue. More cuts to operating budgets are expected, along with continued tuition hikes and flat to diminished financial aid for students, according to the Access and Funding in Public Higher Education report issued by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The report found large states with fast-growing minority populations have been particularly hard hit financially. In 21 states, high unemployment has exhausted work-force training funds, and more money is needed to expand programs linked to high-wage jobs in fields such as health, information technology, and engineering.

The findings were based on an annual survey of 51 members of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges.

Equally dismal was another report from the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit research organization. Trends in College Spending 1999-2009: Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go? What Does It Buy? outlines the decline in funding per student and large losses of private gifts and endowment returns, particularly hurting community colleges.

Cost per degree continued to rise in 2009 except at comprehensive and community colleges; only community colleges are spending less per degree or completion compared to 10 years prior, the study found.

Four-year public colleges were able to offset cuts with tuition hikes, deferred maintenance and trimming of administration costs to keep per student funding levels and instructional funding stable in 2009. However, two-year institutions experienced a 2.5 percent decline in funding for students—and reductions are predicted for the foreseeable future.

Public and private institutions across the board showed improvement in getting more students to college completion in the past decade. U.S. postsecondary institutions granted more than 3.2 million degrees in 2009, an increase of nearly 38 percent since 1999. Private non-profit research and master's institutions have the highest degree productivity, measured as degrees or certificates compared to enrollments, but all sectors became more productive between 1999 and 2009.

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