Rare is the college or university that benefited from generous state funding in the first half of this decade. But for the first time since before the September 11 attacks and the dot-com bust of 2001, enough public dollars are flowing into IHE coffers to exceed the effects of booming enrollment growth and inflation.
A new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, or SHEEO, shows a rebound in constant dollar-per-student state and local funding in 2006. That's welcome news after such funding hit a 25-year low in 2005. "2001 to 2005 was a very difficult period in many states, and the country as a whole," says Paul Lingenfelter, SHEEO president.
SHEEO's annual study of state higher education finance found that in 2006, state and local support per full-time-equivalent student hit $6,325, an increase of 5.1 percent over the previous year. As state and local funding expanded, enrollment growth steadied after five years of increases totaling 17.9 percent. Educational appropriations were most robust in Wyoming and Alaska compared to the national average, while they lagged most in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Colorado.
Whether or not the recent rebound is the start of a full recovery is unclear. Enrollment growth, tight state budgets, and shifting state priorities could change the financial picture again, the report notes. Lingenfelter believes the key for institutions is to continue honing accountability, efficiency, and quality. "It has been hard, it's always hard, to absorb new students without additional resources," he says. "But the best way to maintain the public commitment is to improve what we do, to make it clear that the industry is well-managed and interested in increasing productivity and increasing graduation rates and other areas where we all know we need to do better in serving our students."
For SHEEO's FY06 report with findings by state, go to www.sheeo.org. -C.M.F
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