Tuition Grows in Importance

TalkingEDU_Logo-576877-editedIt’s no secret that state governments have been slowly making higher education less of a priority. According to Rick Seltzer writing for Insider Higher Ed, we have reached a tipping point. Now a “total of 28 states used tuition to generate more than 50 percent of their total educational revenue in the 2017.” This, while in the same year, “state and local appropriations rose 2.1 percent … to total $94.5 billion.” Net tuition still made up slightly less than 50 percent nationwide because states like California, Wyoming and New Mexico rely significantly less on tuition revenue as part of their total educational funding.

While the shift of funding from state to students has been a long time coming, this milestone comes at a time when colleges and universities are looking for ways to increase enrollments and relieve some of the financial stress on students and families by discounting tuition. Rising higher education costs also impede the ability of low and middle income students from attending what were once more affordable state colleges and universities for in-state students, which in turn further depresses much needed full-time equivalent enrollments.


  • In 2008 tuition made up 35.8 percent of total educational revenue nationwide. It’s now makes up 46.4 percent of educational revenue
  • A majority of 27 states saw an increase in educational funding in 2017
  • Wyoming had the highest education appropriation per student at $18,200 with Vermont and NH appropriating just $3,000 per student
  • 33 states saw new tuition revenue increases. The biggest increase was in Louisiana at 22.6 percent, while the largest decrease was 10.8 percent in neighboring Missouri
  • The highest net tuition was collected in Michigan with revenue per full-time student of $15,000, while California collected the least at just $2,000
  • While full-time-equivalent enrollment fell by only 0.1 percent between 2016 and 2017, it has fallen by 11 million or 5.2 percent since 2011
  • Utah had the largest increase in full-time enrollment with 11 percent, while Louisiana and New Mexico tied for the largest decline at 4.7 percent. Full time enrollments were up in just 20 states
  • Overall, combined enrollment, changes to tuition and appropriation show state funded colleges and universities receiving and spending more than at any other time since the State Higher Education Finance report was first published in 1980

Seltzer suggests reasons why schools find themselves in need of additional revenue, including mounting maintenance costs and increased spending needed to provide remedial education to different student populations as a result in shifting national demographics. He delves into more detail regarding appropriations and explores the increasing need for new sources of revenue.

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Further reading:

State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) Fiscal Year 2017 Report - This report details the used in the Insider Higher Ed article

Who Foots Most of the Bill for Public Colleges? In 28 States, It’s Students By Dan Bauman for The Chronicle of Higher Education

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