Office of Planning and Budgeting

Another Report on the Effect of Public Investment on Attainment

Demos, a research and advocacy organization, recently published a report entitled “The Great Cost Shift” discussing the effects of higher tuition and lower state investment on a growing and diverse college population. The report focuses on the Millennial generation, the group of students born in the 1980s and 90s and beginning to enter college in the 2000s.

 There were 26.7 million young people (ages 18-24) in the US in 1990, and 30.7 million in 2010. This population growth combined with increased participation in higher education created a 37.9 percent undergraduate enrollment increase in public universities over 20 years. Additionally, the Millennial generation is characterized by much greater racial ethnic and racial diversity than previous generations (12.3 percent are African American, 57.2 percent are white, and 20.1 percent are Hispanic). Both the growth and diversity of the young adult population has altered the needs of students, and institutions have had to adjust both services and support as a result.

These changes in the number, type and needs of students over the last 20 years has been accompanied by a steady disinvestment of state governments in higher education, which resulted in significant  tuition increases. The very institutions, public, that have absorbed the majority (65.5%) of enrollment increases have also endured the largest decline in funding per student (26.1% decline in real terms from 1990-2010). As a result, public four-year institutions raised tuition by 112.5 percent, adjusted for inflation, over the same time period while the real median household income rose just 2.1 percent.

While states and institutions have often offset these tuition increases with larger financial aid packages for student with need, it is increasingly not enough to cover students’ educational expenses, and students borrowed 4.5 times more in 2010 than in 2000.

The report concluded with a number of recommendations:

  • Recognizing that lower investment in higher education results in higher tuition and lower access for low and middle-income students, states should appropriate more money to higher ed, especially investing more in large institutions that produce a significant number of degrees.
  • Reform the tax system to relieve the tax burden on low and middle-income families.
  • States should move away from merit-based aid and focus on need-based financial assistance. They should also increase awareness about the benefits of federal student loan programs to decrease the volume of private debt students take on.

To read the entire report, please click here.

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