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Davis, California

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Higher education will take years to restore budget cuts, study says

The time it takes states to restore deep cuts has grown longer in the last 20 years, according to a study presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting at the beginning of May.

The research suggests states that imposed large tuition increases, have centralized governing boards or are located in the West may have to wait a particularly long time for cuts to be restored.

The paper’s authors are William R. Doyle, Ph.D., assistant professor of higher education at Vanderbilt University and Jennifer Delaney, Ph.D., assistant professor at Educational Organization & Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said their paper asks how long it will take higher education to recover from cuts in state funding.

Doyle and Delaney analyzed data on state support for higher education between 1979 and 2007. To focus on significant cuts, they counted a reduction as a budget that was 5 percent less than what was provided the previous year. A recovery was when the state was again providing pre-cut levels of funds. The pattern over time has always been to return to pre-cut levels and for many to do so relatively quickly.

Their first key finding reports it is taking more states longer to recover. In the 1980s, no state stayed in the “risk set” (waiting for funds to be restored) for longer than seven years, and 76 percent were restored within five years. In the 1990s, 42 percent had not been restored within five years. By this decade – even before the cuts of the last two years sent many more states into the “risk set” -only 40 percent of states are recovering in five years.

“One of our findings indicates that higher tuition levels lead to longer lengths of recovery time,” Delaney said. “This would imply that, if institutions would like to see their state appropriations rebound more quickly, then they should temper tuition increases following a cut.”

Delaney said the purpose of this research was to understand more about state budgeting for higher education and how state funding patterns for higher education are changing.

“We have been interested in state budgeting for higher education for a number of years now,” Delaney said. “We find it to be an exciting area in which to conduct research and one that has important policy implications for students and families.”

Kevin Woolfork, who works on policy and research for the California Postsecondary Education Commission, said the costs end up being borne by the students.

“Through more loan debt students have limited choices,” Woolfork said. “There are many ripple effects, and it will take a long time to undo. It’s really a matter of state finance, being more efficient and effective.”

Mark Smith of the National Education Association Office of Higher Education said its members are working to change the budget situation by supporting a Congressional bill that would provide funding to save jobs in both higher education and K-12. While there has been a good deal of improvement in funding for student aid, ultimately the benefit for students is mitigated if they cannot get into a college because of enrollment caps or lack of faculty.

Doyle and Delaney were both Ph.D. students at Stanford and have co-authored a number of papers together since leaving Palo Alto.

Lucy Cunningham, an associate of communications at the American Educational Research Association, said there were more than 13,000 attendees at the Denver conference and researchers from the U.S. and 60 other countries.

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.


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