State Schools May Not Be a 'Frugal' Option for Much Longer

You might want to reassess those Sallie Mae debt projections, kids, because the cost of state school tuition is rising. Again. Why? Several reasons, but we can start with the politicians who have turned their attention to other financial woes like prisons and elementary schools. And then there are those constituents who aren't fans of paying taxes to fund state schools; they say that affordable education is a luxury the public shouldn’t have to bankroll.

The costs of entitlement programs they created decades ago are rising, taking more and more money off the table. One in 10 state dollars went to Medicaid in 1987, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. By 2012, close to one in four dollars did.

Americans also don’t have much interest in paying more. In a recent Gallup Poll they said they valued higher education. But fewer than two in five said they strongly agreed that state governments should provide more support to colleges.

Elsewhere, The Chronicle of Higher Education also digs into whether colleges are misusing the funds they do have at the expense of their students.

… there is no evidence of excessive growth in how much public colleges are spending. The $11,000 per student in 2012, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, was almost exactly the same, when inflation is taken into account, as they spent a generation ago.

In 2012, states allocated about $81.3 billion to their local colleges; this number is half the amount legislators spend on elementary and secondary schools. It is still more than the usual funding for prisons and roads, but the problem is university funds don’t increase with inflation as time rolls on.


The ups and downs of state budgets change the fortunes of higher education from year to year. The trends vary across states, but, over all, the good years have been unable to make up for the lean ones. Add to that the growing pressures on state budgets, as health-care and other costs escalate, and the result is long-term decline.

And that, people, means that student debt ratio that President Obama is always talking about will continue to rise, and the the gap between those with and without a college education will keep growing. Some schools have already scaled back their financial aid programs for low-income students while others have limited the number of new students, period. Financial struggles are even effecting the pull that state schools have in terms of hiring in-demand professors, because private schools can pay educators more.

With all of these shifts, however, one thing remains the same: unemployment among college graduate is routinely lower than for those without a degree. So what does all of this really mean? Higher education in America is a treat for the wealthy, now more than ever, rather than a rite of passage. This may be the emerging trend, but I really hope it doesn’t become the status quo.


Image via Getty.