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State Funding for Public Colleges Down, Enrollment Drops

Public dollars invested in higher education per student fell another 9 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the latest report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Total state and local appropriations for higher education was $81.2 billion, down from 7 percent in 2011. But with fewer students attending full time (11.5 million, down from 11.6 million in 2011), per-student public dollars dropped closer to 9 percent. The public investment per student of $5,896 marks the lowest level in 25 years, the report from the Boulder, Colo.-based organization released today shows.

Students and families are paying more in tuition to make up for the gap in public funding. Net institution revenue from tuition and fees has grown from $41 billion in 2008 to nearly $60 billion in 2012, the report notes. This translates into an all-time high of $5,189 in net tuition revenue per full-time student. (SHEEO provides a breakdown of funding by state here.)

Nearly 70 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary education attend a public institution, and accessibility is vital to the health of the economy, said Paul Lingenfelter, president of SHEEO, in a statement. He blamed the depth of the 2008 recession and the economy's slow recovery for the findings of the most recent report, adding that cost increases rather than demand for higher education is hurting enrollment.

"One year does not make a trend, but SHEEO's annual studies document a long-term trend toward shifting more of the burden of financing higher education onto tuition and fees," Lingenfelter said. "In light of these trends, policymakers should give more attention to the size and effectiveness of state and institutional student-assistance programs in providing access and adequate support for full-time enrollment in postsecondary education."

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