Who Can Save Public Universities?

With nationwide state deficits, public universities have been taking a hit. Budget shortfalls have led to rising tuition rates, enrollment caps, faculty layoffs and program cuts. In order to help these institutions stay afloat, various organizations are speaking out about what changes need to be made to readdress key areas and prioritize funding. What will be the future of public universities? Can they be saved?

By Erin Tigro


Costs to Attend, Rising Fees and Student Debt

According to the not-for-profit organization College Board, as of 2010 the average cost of in-state tuition and fees to attend a public 4-year college was just over $7,600 and just below $12,000 for out-of-state students. In contrast, students attending private not-for-profit institutions the same academic year spent an average of $27,293. Many individuals getting ready to attend college look to public institutions because they can't afford or don't want to spend a small fortune to go to a private school.

In some instances, students aren't even completing college and yet are saddled with enormous loans. And in certain states like California, students who have finished community college have to play a waiting game to transfer to overcrowded and understaffed 4-year institutions. Students who make it to graduation are often overwhelmed with even more debt. Incidentally, college graduates in the U.S. today are saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars of combined student loan debt. In an effort to change the status quo, many states throughout the country have already begun addressing this issue with such initiatives as outcomes-based state funding or the securement of private subsidies.

Example of State-Specific Proposals to Reform Public Universities

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has been rallying to change the public higher education system's funding structure. He has supported the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has proposed several changes to the state system. Some of the proposals call for cuts in operation and administrative costs. Another suggestion was a division between instructional and research budgets, since many research colleges today have faculty who teach minimally, if at all. The organization wants to focus funds on student needs, not on extraneous and arguably unnecessary university wants.

Organizations in support of such change include America's Next Impact, an offshoot of the conservative Americans for Prosperity group. This organization, in support of higher education reform, believes that funds should be used more efficiently within public university classrooms, not necessarily the institutions themselves. Its members believe monies should be better used to focus on teaching and learning efforts.

Continue reading for more information about how budget cuts have affected public universities and colleges throughout the U.S.

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