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Colleges Increasingly Rely on Tuition as Public Support Drops

As enrollment grew at colleges across the country last year, public per-student funding dropped again, and schools filled the income gap by raising tuition, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officer's annual report of state and local funding and enrollment trends for public higher education.

Although federal stimulus money helped increase total state and local support in 2011 by 2.5 percent, to $87.5 billion, the per-student expenditure fell to the lowest level in 25 years—$6,290 in 2011 dollars. From 2008 to 2011, the government contribution to public higher education dropped by $1.3 billion, while the number of students on campus was up by 12.5 percent, to 11.7 million students, today's report shows.

At the same time, colleges collected more in net institutional revenues as tuition and fees rose from $42.2 billion in 2008 to $56.3 billion in 2011. Last year, net tuition revenues per student reached a new high of $4,774.

Still, raising tuition has not been enough to offset the loss in state and local funding as colleges' total educational revenues per student dropped by 5.7 percent from 2008 to 2011, the SHEEO report found.

Campuses are increasingly relying on families to fund a larger portion of their expenses. In 1986, tuition made up 23 percent of higher education's revenue; in 2011 it was 43 percent.

"For the past few years, SHEEO's annual studies of state higher education finance have told the same story: rapid and sustained enrollment growth, state funding unable to keep pace with enrollment demand, and the growth of tuition and fees," said Paul Lingenfelter, president of SHEEO in a written statement. "Many institutions have stretched to accommodate enrollment demand, but we are beginning to see evidence that students who have the desire and ability to benefit from higher education are not enrolling due to tuition costs, inadequate financial aid, or enrollment caps."

Based in Boulder, Colo., SHEEO is a national association of the chief executives of statewide governing boards and coordinating boards of postsecondary education.

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