Over the past several decades, demographic and financial changes have already profoundly reshaped the higher-education landscape. As recently as 2000, white kids comprised over three-fifths of all K-12 public-school students in the United States. But the National Center for Educational Statistics calculates that kids of color became the majority for the first time in 2014, and it projects their share will reach 55 percent within a decade. By June 2025, kids of color will, for the first time, comprise the majority of high-school graduates, the center recently projected. And soon after 2030, minorities—who represented just 30 percent of post-secondary students as recently as 2000 and constitute almost 40 percent now—are expected to become the majority on college campuses, too.
Yet as this transformation has unfolded, states have notably retrenched their support for public higher education. The latest annual survey of state spending by the State Higher Education Executive Officers found that, since 1992, spending per student—measured in inflation-adjusted dollars—has declined at public colleges and universities by about 8 percent (even after a recovery in spending after states’ low point in 2012). In turn, per-student tuition revenue has increased by 96 percent.
The result has been an enormous shift in cost from the public collectively to parents and students individually. In 1992, tuition accounted for slightly less than three-tenths of the total educational revenue for public colleges and universities. But by 2017, tuition supplied nearly half of the total revenue. In 28 states last year, tuition provided more revenue than public appropriations, SHEEO found. That was the first time a majority of states funded post-secondary education mostly through tuition.
Over this long transition, neither red nor blue states have covered themselves in glory. But the biggest cutbacks in support have often occurred in states that combine large levels of racial diversity with governments that have been usually (or entirely) controlled by Republicans who rely preponderantly on white voters.
According to the SHEEO report, since the recession in 2008, per-student appropriations for public higher education have declined by around one-sixth in Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina; by over one-fifth in Florida and Mississippi; by over one-fourth in South Carolina; by about one-third in Nevada and Alabama; and by over two-fifths in Arizona and Louisiana.
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Some Democrat-leaning states have also implemented big cuts in per-pupil support over that period, including Connecticut, Delaware, and Colorado. But the biggest blue states present some notable exceptions to this pattern. New York, Illinois, and California have all increased per-student spending since 2008; and Oregon, Hawaii, and Maryland have held spending almost steady.