Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Feeling the Squeeze: To Improve College Access and Affordability, CAP Proposes Federal-State Action to Reverse the Decline in State Support for Higher Education
Press Release

RELEASE: Feeling the Squeeze: To Improve College Access and Affordability, CAP Proposes Federal-State Action to Reverse the Decline in State Support for Higher Education

 CAP releases new research detailing public disinvestment in higher education and resulting effect on low- and middle-income families and communities of color, along with a state-by-state interactive map.

Washington, D.C. — Since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, state governments have slashed their direct investment in public colleges, a move that has resulted in devastating real-world effects on American families. As a result, these institutions of higher learning have increased their reliance on tuition paid by students and families—and in the states that cut funding the most, low- and middle-income families are feeling the greatest economic squeeze.

Today, the Center for American Progress unveiled new research on the “great retreat” of state support for public higher education, finding that that the reduction of state funding coincided with an increased reliance on tuition revenue; low- and middle-income families in states with the highest disinvestment pay the highest net price relative to students in the same income groups in other states; and the cuts disproportionately affected two-year community colleges. CAP also launched a new, state-by-state interactive map that measures the direct state investment in and enrollment at public universities and community colleges since the Great Recession.

In a related issue brief, CAP also looked at the specific effects these cuts have on communities of color. In “Effects of State Higher Education Cuts on Communities of Color,” CAP found that state disinvestment in higher education particularly affects institutions that serve communities of color. In South Carolina, Virginia, and Arizona, the resident population of people of color is 36 percent, 36 percent, and 43 percent, respectively, but these three states are among those that have cut spending per student the most since the Great Recession. Spending dropped by 41 percent in South Carolina during this period, by 27 percent in Virginia, and by 43 percent in Arizona

“Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the federal and state governments invested heavily in postsecondary education, and it paid off. But since the Great Recession, we have lost ground,” said David Bergeron, Vice President for Postsecondary Education Policy at CAP. “It is time to take immediate steps to restore the state-federal partnership to ensure that high-quality higher education programs remain affordable and a core element of the American dream.”

“When faced with tight budgets, states often cut funding to public institutions of higher education—cuts that particularly affect two-year institutions such as community colleges. But in hard economic times, many students—including nontraditional students who are unemployed and traditional students who just can’t afford a four-year school—need public colleges the most,” said Farah Z. Ahmad, Policy Analyst with CAP’s Progress 2050 team. “Reducing support to community colleges, which disproportionately serve students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students, can deprive these students of a crucial educational opportunity.”

CAP proposes revitalizing the investment in public colleges and universities through the Public College Quality Compact, as introduced by CAP in a report earlier this year. The Public College Quality Compact would create a direct tie between federal and state investments and encourages states to reinvest in public institutions of higher education. To be eligible, states would need to agree to implement reforms and innovations that increase students’ value of public colleges, universities, and training centers. The compact would require states to:

  • Create reliable funding by building new funding streams. These streams would need to provide at least as much as the maximum Pell Grant per student in indirect and direct support to public colleges and universities to ensure that students and prospective students can prepare for and enroll in postsecondary education with certainty.
  • Make college affordable by guaranteeing that low-income students who pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree will receive grant aid from the compact to cover their enrollment at public institutions.
  • Improve performance by setting outcome goals for institutions, such as increased graduation rates, and by implementing proven, successful strategies that improve student performance at the institutional level.
  • Remove barriers and state and institutional policies that stand in the way of college completion by standardizing transfer-credit and admissions requirements and by raising K-12 learning standards to align with readiness for postsecondary entry-level courses.

Click here to read “A Great Recession, a Great Retreat” by David Bergeron, Elizabeth Baylor, and Antoinette Flores.

Click here to view the interactive map “The Impact of the Great Recession on Public Colleges” by Elizabeth Baylor and Antoinette Flores.

Click here to read “Effects of State Higher Education Cuts on Communities of Color” by Farah Z. Ahmad.