Seven of the 20 states with the deepest cuts in higher-education spending are in the South, another report measuring funding decreases from 2010 to 2015 found. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, or SHEEO, said Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia each decreased spending on public colleges and universities by at least 10 percent.
That means most of the states with the highest cost of college for families earning less than $30,000 a year are now also in the South, according to a new report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education. In many of those states, about a quarter of the population earns that much or less.
Four of the five states where a community college costs the most for the poorest students are southern: Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Low-income families there would have to pay anywhere from 39 percent to 47 percent of their annual household incomes to pay for a two-year degree, the Penn study found.
And all five of the costliest four-year public university degrees for low-income families are in the South, the same study shows: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas, where the poorest students would have to spend from half to three-quarters of their incomes to attend college.
These trends affect more than the number and income level of people on southern campuses, said Melanie Barton, the executive director of the independent, nonpartisan South Carolina Education Oversight Committee. They threaten the region’s economy and portend a further entrenchment of poverty.
“I’m scared to death we won’t have students in the pipeline for jobs,” said Barton, especially in newer fields such as high-tech manufacturing and healthcare administration.
Five of the 10 states with the lowest percentages of people who have college and university degrees are in the South, the Lumina Foundation, which tracks this, finds: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina. (Lumina is among the funders of The Hechinger Report, which produced this story.)
Of the top 25 metropolitan areas with the highest percentages of people with degrees, only two—Atlanta and Charlotte—are southern.
Meanwhile, five of the 10 states with the biggest declines in university enrollment are in the South, according to SHEEO: West Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Barton said the low priority given by some governors and legislators to public higher education and the sort of associate’s degrees or certificates linked to newer jobs may be a throwback to a time when many workers in southern agriculture and manufacturing industries didn’t need one.
“It’s time to change the culture and our cultural aspirations,” Barton said.