Students struggle to afford college with tuition hikes

WASHINGTON– Making college more affordable to more people continues to be elusive, and the recent recession hasn’t made it any easier.

States have cut their support for public colleges and universities deeply, in some cases and schools have raised tuition as a result. They’ve also dropped classes, eliminated faculty and reduced other services to compensate.

For high school seniors nervously waiting for admissions decisions this spring from public colleges and universities, the recession’s impact might mean fewer acceptances, in some cases, and higher costs for many who do get in, according to a study on the impact of state education cuts by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“A lot of groups are calling for states to figure out a long-term strategy for funding higher ed,” said Julie Bell, the education program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Almost nobody thinks states are going to return to where they were.”

States began trimming their budgets after the recession took hold in 2008, according to the center, a research group that studies the impact of government spending on low- and moderate-income people.

Few took steps such as raising taxes to replace what they’d lost, it noted.

“It’s a really dangerous trend” because tuition will keep growing beyond what increasing numbers of people can pay, said Phil Oliff, an author of the report.

More than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates are enrolled in public colleges and universities, according to federal data.

More than half of the money those schools received last year came from local governments, and most of that was tax revenue, the center reported.

But from Massachusetts to New Mexico, states on average are spending less per student _ about $2,350 a year, or 28 percent _ than they did five years ago, the center said.

Eleven have cut their financial support per student by more than a third, it found, while states such as Florida, Idaho, South Carolina and Washington have slashed even deeper, cutting back college support by nearly 40 percent or more.

California cut its higher education aid from nearly $3 billion in 2007-08 to about $2 billion currently, a 29 percent drop. A $125 million increase is expected for next year, as a result of tax increases approved by voters.

But the loss of state aid has taken a toll. The California State University has had to turn away 20,000 qualified applicants every year for several years, said Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the chancellor’s office.

  • Renee Schoof, MCT Campus