Numerous articles and commentaries from inside and outside of academia are raising the alarm that American public higher education faces an unprecedented financial crisis.
For years, state legislatures have been disinvesting in public colleges and universities, leaving campus administrators to struggle with how to make do with less. The result: rising debt, deferred maintenance for aging facilities, reductions in programs and course offerings, dismissals, elimination of many student and faculty services, and loss of talented faculty — many of whom haven’t received pay increases in years — to private universities.
To try to offset some of these challenges, universities are raising tuition and fees to historically high levels. The cost of tuition alone has soared from 23 percent of median annual earnings in 2001 to 38 percent in 2010.
Given the pressing demands on state budgets, it is unlikely that funding for higher education will return to pre-2007 levels anytime soon. In fact, analysts predict just the opposite: Financing levels will continue to decrease in the years ahead to the point where a number of colleges and universities may be forced to close.
In some states, campuses are being consolidated. In others, enrollments have been capped. With the average cost of providing one year of on-campus education at a public university now topping $32,000 and the average tuition covering only 20 percent of that, the problem is real and it isn’t going away.
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