by John Newsome, Greensboro News-Record, June 12, 2015.
So who’s paying for college? These days, it’s the federal government.
That was a key finding of a report issued Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan policy group in Washington. The report looked at the financial support that colleges and universities get from state and federal governments.
Traditionally, states have spent more money on higher education than the federal government. Most state money goes toward operating costs — largely faculty and staff member salaries — at public universities and community colleges. The bulk of federal government spending is for Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students, research grants and veterans’ education benefits.
Over the past decade, federal spending on higher education has outpaced state spending. Between 2000 and 2012, according to the Pew report, federal revenue per student to public, private and for-profit colleges grew by 32 percent, while state dollars fell by 37 percent. College enrollment, meanwhile, surged by about 45 percent during that time.
“This is a pretty significant shift in a very short period of time,” said Phil Oliff, research manager at Pew Charitable Trusts.
In 2010 — for the first time in at least 20 years — federal spending on colleges outpaced state spending, after adjusting for enrollment and inflation.
During the recession, federal funding increased as more low-income students and veterans enrolled in college and Pell Grant award amounts increased. State funding for higher education declined as tax revenues fell.
“That’s because states need to balance their budgets,” Oliff said.
Here’s a quick look at North Carolina, according to the Pew report:
- North Carolina’s spending on public higher education works out to about $11,600 per student per year. Only four other states — Alaska, Wyoming, Hawaii and Connecticut — and the District of Columbia spend at a higher rate on colleges.
- The state’s public colleges collect $4,851 in net tuition and fees per student per year. Only seven states bring in less: California, New York, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Wyoming and New Mexico.
- North Carolina ranks 16th in federal revenue per student for higher education. The state gets about $5,500 per student from Washington.
- The state ranks 10th in the nation in federal research revenue. North Carolina gets $167 per person per year for university research. The national per capita average is $124.
- The state gets an average of $1,881 per full-time undergraduate student in Pell Grant monies. That’s less than the national average of $2,078.