After the Great Recession: Higher Education’s New Normal: Analysis of National Surveys of Access and Finance Issues, 2011 to 2015

By Nicholas Brock

A recent report published by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center examines funding trends for public higher education in the five years following the 2008 Recession. They find that while state revenues are continuing to rebound after the economic downturn, higher education funding remains below the pre-recession levels and will likely continue to face tough competition for relatively scarce state dollars.

Notable findings include:

  • While state appropriations for higher education are predicted to increase by an average of 2-3% in 2015-2016, they will still fail to cover the predicted 2.1% Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) inflation rate for community colleges in 18 states, regional universities in 17 states, and flagship universities in 16 states.
    • The states who approved budgets below this inflation rate (all but two- Massachusetts and Utah) will likely lead institutions to raise tuition to make up for the shortfall.
    • Tuition is predicted to increase at community colleges by 3%; at public regional and flagship universities it is predicted to increase by 4% and 3.5% respectively.
  • While a majority of state community colleges indicate that they have the capacity to meet the needs of current and projected numbers of high school graduates and adults, a handful of public community colleges are experiencing enrollment caps (in 8 states) and public flagship and regional institutions are capping enrollment in 7 and 5 states respectively.
  • Community colleges are expected to be hit the hardest from state divestment. All types of public community colleges – urban, suburban and rural – are predicted to face significant fiscal challenges in 2015-2016.
    • Community college leaders in 41 states predict their rural community colleges will face serious fiscal strain; leaders in 19 states predict their suburban community colleges will struggle; and leaders in 22 states predict their urban community colleges will be financially challenged.