State Funding for Higher Ed Increased in 2020 for the 8th Straight Year. It Won’t Make Up for Past Cuts.

State higher-education funding per full-time equivalent student was up for the eighth consecutive year, at 2.9 percent in the 2020 fiscal year, according to a new report. But it still hasn’t recovered from the cuts it endured during the last two recessions.

And although the pandemic’s effect on college finances wasn’t as bad as predicted, public institutions could still experience crippling state and local funding cuts in the years to come, according to the annual state higher-education finance report produced by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

The signs of financial precarity have already surfaced. The organization’s analysis of “Grapevine” data, which was released in March and gives an early look at state higher-education funding in the new fiscal year, shows that state tax appropriations for higher education dropped 1.8 percent from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021. Federal stimulus money softened the drop to 0.1 percent across the U.S.

The finance report provides context for higher-education funding and enrollment over time, and it shows that the almost decade-long stretch of increases in state support weren’t enough to make national public higher education whole: Funding per full-time student in 2020 was still 6 percent below 2008 levels and 14.6 percent below 2001.

However, there’s variation behind the national numbers. Nearly two-thirds of states haven’t recovered from the 2008 recession, and a dozen states’ funding levels were at least 20 percent below what they were in 2008. But the news for states wasn’t all bad. The number of states whose funding has been restored to 2008 levels was 18, twice the number as the year before.

Learn more about state higher-education funding and enrollment trends for public colleges through the 2020 fiscal year below:

The amount of total education revenue (net tuition revenue plus appropriations) per full-time equivalent student at public colleges in the 2020 fiscal year. This figure is a record high, but it doesn’t mean public institutions have more revenue than ever before, the report says. Some colleges that are heavily reliant on state money couldn’t increase tuition or admit more out-of-state students to make up for cuts that followed the 2008 recession.

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