What Cost Shift to College Students and Parents?

A new report from Demos, a policy and advocacy center, titled The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the Future Middle Class “examines how state disinvestment in public higher education over the past two decades has shifted costs to students and their families.”

However, there is no 20-year trend of public disinvestment based on the figures in the report. Here is figure 6 showing state support per student

state support for higher ed per full time students.png

And here’s figure A2, showing state support per young adult in the population

state support for higher ed per full time students2.png

The most logical interpretation of these charts is not that there has been a 20-year trend in falling state support — there hasn’t. Rather, both charts show that state funding has remained essentially flat for 20 years. There are cuts during and immediately after recessions, but these are reversed in better years, leaving no upward or downward trend.

Yet tuition increases not just when state support falls, but even when times are good. Students are certainly paying more these days, but that has almost nothing to do with a transitory cost shift and everything to do with the wasteful spending habits of universities. It is this runaway spending, not reduced state largess that must bear the blame for what students and their families now have to spend on college.

Andrew Gillen is the Senior Researcher at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).


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