Last week, Moody’s Investors Service issued a negative short-term outlook for the entire sector of higher education based on its conclusion that every traditional revenue source for even the most elite colleges and universities is under pressure. That pressure, according to the report, is the result of nation-wide economic, technological and public opinion shifts, which are largely beyond institutions’ control.
The outlook report, released annually, articulates the fundamental credit conditions that Moody’s expects higher education will face during the next 12 to 18 months. For the last two years, Moody’s gave elite colleges and research universities a stable forecast; but this year, the following factors contributed to a negative outlook for the entire industry:
Struggling Revenue Sources:
- State appropriations are unlikely to increase meaningfully due to weak economic recovery.
- Federal spending on research and student aid could be truncated in response to the nation’s fiscal concerns.
- Tuition revenue continues to be suppressed by low family incomes and public/political pressure to keep prices down.
- Endowment returns are vulnerable to any economic volatility that could stem from federal tax and budget decisions.
- Donations are not expected to increase and could face pressure as Congress evaluates associated tax deductions.
- Financial diversity is no longer helpful as all revenue streams are strained.
- Student debt and loan default rates have increased and thus challenged the perceived value of a degree.
- High school graduates are declining in number.
- Public and political scrutiny of efficiency and degree value could add to institutions’ list of regulatory requirements.
- New technologies such as online learning and MOOCs could provide new revenue opportunities, but could also undermine traditional higher ed models.
Moody’s analysts warn that revenue streams will never rebound to post-2008 levels and leaders in higher education will need to adapt by thinking strategically and adjusting their operations.
But not all is gloom and doom. Although Moody’s gave higher education a negative outlook, most of the country’s top colleges and universities still hold the strong credit rankings. The UW, for one, continues to maintain a Aaa credit rating—the highest offered by Moody’s. Additionally, the report stressed that the intrinsic value of and demand for higher education remains stable.
Last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown released a proposed 2013-14 budget that includes substantial increases for higher education—made possible by the passage of Prop 30. For the UC and CSU systems, the proposal provides an ongoing increase of $125.1 million each. This includes $10 million each to expand the delivery of courses through technology and is in addition to the $125 million that UC and CSU will each receive in 2013‑14 for not increasing tuition and fees in 2012‑13, as required by the 2012 Budget Act. In sum, the proposal says “the state’s General Fund contribution to UC and CSU will increase by 5 percent per year in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and by 4 percent in each of the subsequent two years.”
Both higher ed systems had asked for more; but, according to The Chronicle, Gov. Brown said “the gap between what we’re going to give them and what they say they’re going to need” would have to be made up through efficiencies. Cal State system’s chancellor that Mr. Brown’s proposal at least “heads us in the right direction.”
However, in exchange for new money, state institutions are expected to keep tuition and fee levels stable over the next four years. The institutions are required to increase access to online courses and limit resident tuition rates to the first 150 percent of credits needed to graduate. This limitation is an attempt to encourage timely degree completion, reduce student debt, and free up classroom space for other students.
At a news conference Thursday, Governor Brown stated that he would be attending UC and CSU board meetings in the hopes of encouraging both systems to keep tuition prices stable.
The 2013 Washington State legislative session, scheduled to last 105 days, began today. OPB will be tracking all bills that are relevant to the University and we will do our best to keep you updated on the happenings in Olympia. For the most comprehensive legislative session information, please see the Washington State Legislature’s website.
As always, check the BillTracker for the latest information on bills relevant to the UW, including scheduled hearings, bill summaries, and the official UW position on a bill. This year, we have also integrated our Fiscal Note process into the BillTracker, which will hopefully streamline the data gathering process.
For more information about how to use BillTracker and bill analysis generally, check out this presentation. If you have questions about submitting Fiscal Notes, please review this Fiscal Note presentation.
Please also feel free to check out the Office of State Relations website for up-to-date information on the state of events in Olympia.
We will post updates on the budget situation to the blog, and we will announce any new budget briefs here as well. If you have a pressing budget-related question, please contact Sarah Hall at email@example.com. For any questions related to bill tracking or Fiscal Notes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, the Senate and House of Representatives approved legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The deal postpones the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts—known as “the sequester”—by two months and increases tax rates only for individuals earning over $400,000 and couples earning over $450,000. The bill also preserves funding for Pell Grants and extends for five years the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for tuition and college expenses.
For details, please see the blog post provided by Christy Gullion, Director of Federal Relations, and the articles provided by Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle
Christy Gullion, Director of Federal Relations, recently provided an update on the fiscal cliff–the combination of large decreases in federal spending and simultaneous increases in income taxes set to take effect January 1st. For background information, please see the brief put out jointly by the UW offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research.
The Governor’s budget office released the first set of biennial budgets today. The current Governor proposed a “current law” balanced budget, assuming no new revenue, and a budget with new revenue, appropriating $34.1 billion of Near General Fund State per year, for which all of higher education, including financial aid, would receive nearly $3 billion (or 8.7 percent). As a reminder, Governor Gregoire’s budget proposals are the first of many budgets to be released for the upcoming biennium. The earliest point that the UW will have a sense of its actual anticipated state funding level is late April 2013. In addition, we might see Governor-elect Inslee release his own budget, or a set of budget priorities, in January 2013.
Under Governor Gregoire’s balanced and new law budgets, each of the state’s six baccalaureate institutions would receive slight increases in funding when compared to carry-forward budgets levels, with no new tuition increases or state funding reductions. While the UW has another year of tuition setting authority under HB 1795, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, this budget does not provide any new financial aid funds to cover tuition increases. Note that Education Legacy Trust funding, from which the UW normally received at least $8 million annually, was removed from all public baccalaureate institutions’ budgets and replaced with general fund appropriations.
The 2012 Legislature appropriated $209 million in state funds to the UW for FY13, thus, both of the Governor’s proposed budgets represent an increase in the UW’s state funding for FY14 and FY15. However, the budget bill devotes these increases to covering expenses associated with the UW’s collective bargaining agreements. If any funds remain afterward, they will be available for any other purpose(s).
Please review our budget brief on the Governor’s operating budgets and capital budgets. As usual, let us know if you have any questions.
Washington’s Economic Revenue and Forecast Council (ERFC) released November’s revenue forecast today. Overall, revenue collections for the current biennium are holding steady, while collections anticipated for the next biennium are slightly lower than the previous forecast.
2011-13 (FY12 and FY13)
For the current biennium, collections are $8 million higher than the previous forecast, and though this increase is extremely slight, it signals
to agencies that additional, current year budget cuts are unlikely when the legislature reconvenes in January.
2013-15 (FY14 and FY15)
The upcoming session will be at least 105 days in length and result in a new biennial (two year) budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The revenue forecast for the upcoming biennium was also updated today and as predicted, shows a modest decline but largely holds anticipated collections to the previously forecasted level. As required by law, ERFC releases optimistic and pessimistic alternative forecasts for the coming biennium. The alternative forecasts suggest that a variance of $3 billion in new revenue or in new cuts is possible. For the time being, the actual forecast for the upcoming biennium is $88 million lower than the September forecast. Slow growth is expected in both Washington State and the US. However, high downside risks including the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, federal fiscal cliff, and the resulting employment and consumer confidence declines present significant reasons to be skeptical about any significant revenue growth.
Governor Gregoire will release her biennial budget in December, but new Governor Jay Inslee may present an alternative budget in January, at
the same time the legislature begins its budget process. Stay tuned! We have a long way to go!
On Tuesday, 11 states voted on ballot measures that could impact higher education. The following table (based on one from The Chronicle) summarizes how those measures fared.
YES–the measure passed NO–the measure failed
||Would temporarily increase sales and income taxes in order to raise approx. $6-billion in revenue and stave off $963-million worth of cuts to the public colleges.
||Would allow a $11.3-million bond issue to fund capital for a diagnostic facility at the University of Maine.
||Would let children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates provided they meet certain conditions.
||Would let graduate students form unions and bargain collectively.
||Would raise cigarette taxes and use the revenue to create a Health and Education Trust Fund. About 30 percent of revenue would go to higher education.
||Would require proof of citizenship in order for a person to receive certain state services, which includes attending Montana’s public colleges.
||Would let the state issue a $750-million bond for buildings and upgrades at public and private colleges.
||Would authorize a $120-million sale for certain higher education repairs and improvements.
||Would ban affirmative action programs in the state, including their use in public colleges’ admission policies.
||Would give Rhode Island College up to $50-million for its health and nursing programs’ facilities.
||Would allow the UW and WSU to invest publicly-generated revenue (i.e. parking fees and indirect-cost reimbursement for grants) in corporate stock.
||Would renew the requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote in order to create new taxes or raise existing ones–effectively making it more difficult for the state to generate new revenue for programs including higher education.
The UW’s Office of Federal Relations posted information this morning detailing the federal sequester’s impact on state budgets. Read the grim summary here.
The Offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research recently collaborated on a policy brief summarizing basic sequester information. Note that sequester updates are available on the Office of Federal Relations’ blog.
The Pell Grant program, the largest federal student grant program, was expected to be $20 billion short of the $40 billion price estimated for FY12 (which ended July 1). However, the Department of Education surprised many with newly-released data showing the federal government not only spent well under that estimate at only $33.4 billion, but in fact $2.2 billion less than FY11.
Recently, Pell eligibility increased dramatically as college enrollments rose and the recession continued to impact family/student income. This trend continued in FY12 and, interestingly, the dip in Pell spending occurred despite a 58,000 increase in Pell recipients—to almost 9.7 million. In fall 2011, nearly one quarter of UW freshmen were Pell eligible.
Reasons for the decline in Pell spending include:
- The elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year.
- More students attending college part time as part-time status reduces Pell award amounts.
- Fewer students attending for-profit institutions, which tend to enroll students who qualify for larger awards. Recent bad press and slumping enrollments have hit for-profits hard. Consequently, the number of Pell recipients at for-profits declined by 108,000 students, to roughly 2.1 million, and accounted for $1.4 billion of the decrease.
The drop in Pell expenditures is a relief for most lawmakers as they face next year’s “fiscal cliff” and must address both the impending tax hikes (when Bush tax cuts expire) and the automatic spending cuts (as mandated by the sequester). The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have resisted financial aid-related budget cutting, maintaining the maximum Pell award of $5,550 and writing specific protection for Pell Grant funding into the Budget Control Act. However, recent financial straits have already caused the federal government to eliminate several student loan programs such as the previously-mentioned summer Pell Grant, the six-month grace period for loan repayment, subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students, and incentives for early loan repayment. With the sequester and difficult budget decisions looming on the horizon, it is safe to say that no funding is safe.
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