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Public Higher Education Still Hasn't Recovered From Recession Budget Cuts: Grapevine Report

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Public colleges in much of the country are in better financial health this year, but overall, appropriations are still 4 percent below where it they were at the beginning of the Great Recession.

The latest Grapevine report, released Monday, showed a majority states are beginning to reinvest slightly in public higher education. Forty states gave more money to public higher education for FY 2014, though that varies from just .8 percent in Hawaii to 27 percent in New Hampshire, as the Chronicle of Higher Education noted.

The annual Grapevine report was produced by the Illinois State University Center for the Study of Education Policy in cooperation with the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

"What we found in this year's survey is that the trend is up nationwide, which I think reflects that the economy is a little bit better," Jim Palmer, the report’s editor, told Inside Higher Ed. "Historical trends indicate that state support for higher ed tracks the economy."

However, in the states where higher education funding was cut the most, the near future doesn't look to be much better.

Arizona has cut funding for public higher ed by a third since 2009, according to the report, only a hair behind the percentage Louisiana has decreased state university appropriations. But just last week, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) proposed a no-growth budget for state colleges for FY 2015.

And one lawmaker, state Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), complained in a recent interview with the Arizona Daily Star that too many people are going to college, suggesting it's a waste of money to make higher education more accessible.

“Continuously pouring more money into higher ed is not the solution to get these jobs,” said Kavanagh, head of the House Appropriations Committee.

In response to Kavanagh's comments, Arizona Board of Regents Chair Rick Myers said: "I can't believe anyone that's an elected official in Arizona, representing our citizens, wouldn't appreciate that we need to have enough to be competitive, to give our state and our people a chance to have the life that they deserve."

The cuts to higher ed in Arizona helped fuel a 78.4 percent increase in tuition at public colleges from FY 2008 to FY 2013.

Pennsylvania has chipped away higher ed funding by more than 20 percent since 2009 and was one of the 10 states to reduce higher ed funding again in FY 2014. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) will unveil his FY 2015 budget in a couple weeks, but warned the state is still facing a shortfall.

Pennsylvania has highest state tuition and the the third highest average student, with the typical graduate leaving college with $31,675 in the red, according to the Project on Student Debt. Although, Arizona and Louisiana, have some of the lowest average student debt loads.

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