Alabama's higher education cuts are nation's fifth worst, report finds

Alabama has cut state funding for public colleges and universities more than all but four other states since the Great Recession, according to a new report released Thursday, May 1, 2014, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. As a result, soaring tuition costs have forced many young workers to start their careers with high debt loads and have made college increasingly unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Alabamians.

State funding for higher education in Alabama has fallen 37.5 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, the CBPP report finds. That’s a decrease of $4,413 per student. Over the same period, the average tuition at a public four-year institution in Alabama has jumped by 55.2 percent, or $3,250 per student. Alabama’s tuition increases are the nation’s seventh highest as a percentage and the sixth highest as a dollar amount, according to the CBPP report.

“Too many students are taking on oppressive levels of debt, and high tuition costs are scaring many would-be students away from college altogether,” Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister said. “Alabama needs to invest in education and look for ways to make college more affordable.”

When revenues plummeted amid the recession, many states responded primarily with deep spending cuts to higher education and other services instead of a more balanced blend of cuts and revenue increases. Most states, including Alabama, have begun to restore some of these cuts. Still, states are spending 23 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008 after adjusting for inflation, and tuition at four-year public colleges has grown nationally by 28 percent since 2007-08.

As the economy recovers, Alabama should make college affordability a high priority, Forrister said. “Making higher education more accessible now will strengthen Alabama’s economy tomorrow,” he said. “Areas with highly educated residents attract employers who pay good wages, and people who make good wages spend those dollars in their communities. That boosts the entire economy, and that’s good for our entire state.”

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