State Report Cards Show Low Grades In Higher Education Investment

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

As state disinvestment continues to be a major headline across the country, one higher education group has released report cards on states’ budget support for public higher education — and the results show some states far outpace the others.

The report cards, developed by Young Invincibles (YI), are the result of a scoring system created to take into account the relationship between state budgets and college affordability. The group notes that tuition at four-year, public institutions between 2007 and 2013 rose by 37 percent, while national student loan debt has reached $1.3 trillion.

“[F]ew states are doing much to ease the cost burden of college for students and families,” which “should concern us all,” YI says.

Because the analysis “requires more than comparing the national mean of state higher education budgets,” YI used metrics based on its organizational values to evaluate state budget performance in higher education:

  • Encouraging lower tuition at public institutions;
  • Higher appropriations within state budgets;
  • Lower levels of student debt; and 
  • Increases in direct state support to student aid and grants.

According to the scoring system methodology, states were evaluated using fifteen variables from five categories of state budget support, including tuition, state budget appropriations, burden on families, direct aid to students, and education as a priority. Each variable was then given a baseline, such as whether the average tuitions of public institutions were set to the national mean or whether the average grant-amount was set to the national mean. Each state was given a final grade based on the average of all five categories’ scores with the exception of three states (Alaska, Delaware, and New Mexico) where there was a lack of data.

So how did the states stack up against one another? Well, more than 30 states received failing grades with Colorado (48 percent), Vermont (45 percent), Michigan (45 percent), Oregon (44 percent), and New Hampshire (17 percent) rounding out the bottom five states. Only four states received "A’s" for support of public higher education 

  • Wyoming (96 percent);
  • New York (93 percent);
  • Alaska (93 percent); and
  • Oklahoma (90 percent). 

According to YI, Wyoming offers the largest amount of money per college student at $16,474, maintains low public tuition (about half the national average), and holds its families responsible for only 13 percent of the cost of college, all of which helped the state earn its “A.” However, the state also received an “F” for “higher education as a priority” and “aid for students,” indicating areas for improvement. 

As for New York, the state’s high investment in aid for students when compared to other states, as well as its higher-than-average spending per student, contributed to its high score. However, New York also received low marks for tuition —which YI says has risen 22 percent since the Great Recession — and not prioritizing higher education as well as other states. 

Other low marks among the top states include Alaska’s lack of support for low-income students and Oklahoma’s low average of state appropriations for higher education. 

“We have a long way to go as a country if even our top rated states struggle to meet all benchmarks that help us measure college affordability,” YI says. “But new legislative sessions, and budgetary debates that will follow, mark a new opportunity to make the case for state reinvestment in higher education – and pointing to these metrics is a good way to start.”

For more on state disinvestment on higher education and the impact it is having on students and families, check out NASFAA’s coverage of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.


Publication Date: 1/14/2015

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