Office of Planning and Budgeting

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.

AAUP released its annual academic salary information this week. The data show, once again, that faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation, that they have not increased significantly over many years, and that the pay gap between professors at public and private institutions continues to grow.

Although these data do not address the rapidly increasing costs of benefits (healthcare especially), they do make clear that the growing cost of tuition is not primarily driven by increasing faculty salaries, a popular argument. Don’t expect that explanation to fall out of favor, however, as previous years of data have seemed to make no impact on its prevalence.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, conducted in late February, the majority of all Americans think higher education contributes positively to the country, while those identifying themselves as conservative were more likely to doubt its benefits. While 67 percent of Democrats believe college affects the country positively, only 51 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of conservative Republicans agree. For those who self-identify as agreeing with the Tea Party, only 38 percent think colleges have a positive effect and 47 percent think they have a negative effect.

That said, both Democrats and Republicans who have experienced higher education think it was a worthwhile personal investment (81 percent and 85 percent, respectively). Furthermore, parents of all political backgrounds fully expect their children to go to college: 99 percent of Republican parents, 96 percent of parents who are Democrats and 93 percent of Independents hope their children will receive higher education.

Finally, the primary purpose of college is debated across the political spectrum. While liberal Democrats tend to say college should focus most on enhancing the student personally and intellectually (47 percent), 52 percent of conservative Republicans think college should focus primarily on teaching skills and knowledge needed in the work world. In general, 47 percent of survey respondents thought skills were the most important, while 39 percent believed personal growth was the crucial component of a college education.

To read more about the survey, please follow the link to the Pew Center report here.

In FY09, the UW’s state funding appropriation was $401.7 million and while the upcoming fiscal year’s (FY13) state funding level could be $214.4 million, the Senate budget released this morning would not cut current levels further. For the first time in several years, the UW may experience a flat budget, without new reductions. While funding levels are dramatically lower than they were before the Great Recession, they may not be reduced further.

Like the House budget, finalized by House Ways & Means Saturday, February 25, the Senate budget reduces state expenditures, authorizes fund transfers, and captures fund savings to deal with the current 2011-13 biennium shortfall of $1.05 billion. Reductions are made to important state services, including mental health, foster care support and community supervision of convicted criminals. However, these cuts, in part, allow the Senate to avoid cutting higher education and K12 further in the remainder of the current biennium (FY12 and FY13).

The Senate budget, as introduced, requires that the UW devote $3.8 million of its current appropriation level to converting 425 existing FTEs to student FTEs studying engineering and appropriates new money for the Center for Aerospace Innovation and Technology.

The Senate capital budget was also released today. Under the Senate proposal, the entire construction phase ($62.6 million) of Bothell Phase 3 would be funded, but from a variety of fund sources, with almost $20 million of the total cost supported through state construction bonds. This compares favorably to the House budget, which authorized the UW to bond the entire construction cost through its own building account resources.

While the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn sine die next Thursday, March 8, each chamber has a lot of work ahead before a compromise budget can be reached.

A full briefing on the Senate budget, comparing it to the House budget, is available here. Please let us know if you have questions.

In a press release, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) reported that giving to universities rebounded in 2011, raising $30.3 billion, an 8.2 percent increase over last year (4.8 percent, adjusted for inflation). The top 20 fundraising institutions, of which the University of Washington is number 14, received a total of $8.24 billion in 2011, representing a 15.8 percent increase over 2010. The UW raised a total of $334.49 million last year, up 17.3 percent from 2010 and up 5.8 percent from 2006. In general, most increases in giving to universities were earmarked for capital purposes, such as constructing buildings, though giving for operational purposes is still the majority at 58.7 percent.

A major driver of the increases in charitable giving to universities is thought to be the better performance of the stock market in 2011, which increased the value of gifts of stock universities received by 38.2 percent from 2010. Furthermore, the economy began growing again in June 2009, which increased confidence and therefore increased giving. Universities, which appeal to a number of philanthropic interests, were good candidates for investment. Finally, endowments gained back some value they had lost due to the recession, increasing by a median of 17 percent.

The increase in charitable giving to universities is an important development that could signal increasing confidence in the economy and growing interest in investing in students and learning. To read the full report, or to read more about giving at the UW, please click here and here.

See the latest OPB brief for information about today’s state revenue forecast update.

In a Town Hall Seattle meeting last night, Washington’s six public baccalaureate university presidents and business leaders from REI, Boeing, and Microsoft gathered to discuss  unprecedented cuts to Washington’s public institutions and generate energy for the Seattle Times’ Greater Good Campaign. Organized by the Seattle Times and funded in partnership with local businesses, the campaign intends to expand awareness of the importance of higher education for the vitality and economic security of our communities and advocate for increased funding for public higher education.

Last night, the public baccalaureate presidents expressed their concerns with retaining star faculty, providing access to low and particularly middle-income students who don’t benefit from state-supported financial aid programs, and maintaining affordable tuition rates. Business leaders shared their devotion to the Pacific Northwest, but their worries that our state’s inability to educate enough of its citizens may force their companies to look elsewhere for educated workers.

When moderator and Seattle Times editor Kate Riley asked President Young about his impressions of President Obama’s State of the Union address and blueprint for higher education reform, Young said, “They’ve got the guns aimed at the wrong problem.” In Washington, per student funding has remained flat for twenty years, but resources to support educational funding have completely switched. While the state used to provide 70 percent of the per student funding in the early 1990’s, the state now only provides 30 percent. The total funding remains the same but the primary shareholders of our public universities are now students and parents, not the state.

Footage from the event is available here.

New OPB Brief

Posted under Higher Ed News by  

This week, UPenn’s Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE) released a report assessing the state of higher education policy in Washington State. While satisfactorily describing the key facts and long-term trends and potential future problems for higher education in Washington State, the report is somewhat unrealistic in its recommendations. It seems to assume that, absent any change in state funding trends, policymakers can dramatically alter educational attainment via structural changes in governance.

Read the latest OPB brief for more information.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce issued a new report,  Hard Times, which focuses once again on why a college education is so important to employment and earnings in the US economy. While persistent critics of the value of higher education point to the recently rising unemployment rate for new college graduates, 8.9 percent, the report points out that for workers with only a high school degree the unemployment rate is 22.9 percent, and 31.5 percent for high school dropouts. The combined unemployment rate for all workers with a BA degree is currently 5 percent.

In addition to pointing out the positive correlation between college education and earnings and employment, the report analyzes data by college major. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that the unemployment rate for majors closely tied to a particular industry or job (such as healthcare, business and education) was lower than the rate for those with more generalized degrees. The exception to this were majors like Architecture that are so closely tied to a currently ailing industry that current unemployment rates are the highest of all.

Ultimately, as the economy recovers and the recent graduates gain more experience, all graduates are expected to enjoy improved employment rates.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute published an interesting paper recently called Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning. While primarily focused on the role of technology in K-12 education, the paper provides perspective for higher education as well. This topic is especially important as the economic crisis continues to push universities to produce more with less and, as a result, demands to scale up online learning intensify.

The paper recognizes the hope and possibility that technology will produce productivity gains in education over the long-term, but addresses major questions about quality and cost and emphasizes the need for systematic testing and analysis prior to radically changing today’s teaching model. Among the important points brought up in the paper:

  • We must question not only whether online learning can be less expensive than traditional learning, but, more importantly, whether it can be both less expensive and at least as good (or better) in quality and outcomes. We do not yet have enough data to answer this question.
  • The world of online learning is not monolithic. There are many ways to integrate technology with learning , and each model has very different costs and benefits and downsides.
  • Like with any new model, the start-up costs are very high and require a large up-front  investment.
  • Many assume that online learning will minimize labor costs by reducing a reliance on in-person instruction, but labor costs associated with developing, running, and maintaining sophisticated technology-based programs are themselves very high.
  • Similarly, online learning requires a dependence on expensive equipment (not only individual learning devices for teachers and students, but also servers, storage, and all the needs that accompany the maintenance and management of a large, technology-based enterprise).
  • Because technology changes so frequently, many of these costs are confronted anew on a much more regular basis than in a traditional educational model (e.g. Universities spending millions to wire entire campuses and then very quickly having to switch everything over to WiFi).

Technology has revolutionized how we live and do business in the modern world. This has been true in education as well, but the effect has not yet been as transformative as was hoped for. As education becomes more important in developing the human capital required for the economy of the future, its rising costs have become a bigger target for reform. And while it is clear that technology can and should play a larger role in changing how we educate the students of tomorrow, it is important that neither the tools of education nor the cost of education take precedence over the quality of the education.

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