State support for higher education in the United States appears to be heading for a ninth consecutive year of increase, in some cases with significant margins, defying widespread fears of economic crises and declining enrollment caused by Covid .
While states typically present their annual budgets in January, the first scattered reports indicate their spending on public colleges and universities exceeds the 2.6% per year average increase above the inflation they posted. since 2014.
These include Alabama, where the state’s higher education commission is asking lawmakers to jump 17% in a single year. Indeed, many are forecasting increases of more than 10 percent, said Thomas Harnisch, vice president of government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
It’s still too early to know the full picture nationally, said Dr Harnisch, whose organization represents state-wide post-secondary education boards. “But the demands they’ve made,” he said, referring to both individual institutions and state-wide systems, “are certainly more important than they have to be. do. [made] in the past, and this reflects the budget surpluses experienced by many states.
The state’s budget position is part of a complicated environment for U.S. higher education, just a year after Congress handed institutions some $ 70 billion (£ 50 billion) out of a total taxpayer bailout $ 4.5 trillion to help the country cope with pandemic losses.
With this federal infusion, the US economy is rebounding from the Covid shutdowns, albeit more weakly and unevenly than widely expected – and with rising inflation and the Omicron variant now compounding the problems.
However, the overall strength of the US economy, supported by the bailout, has apparently outstripped these concerns for many states, Dr Harnisch said. A 2018 Supreme Court ruling allowing states to levy taxes on online purchases could also have a significant effect, he said.
Such optimism comes shortly after many higher education advocates lamented Congress’ failure to approve a plan by the Biden administration to increase funding for public colleges by offering $ 45 billion in federal support. over five years in exchange for smaller but corresponding increases in state contributions.
States can now increase post-secondary spending without this federal incentive, said Dr Harnisch, but that does not remove the need for a stronger state-federal partnership. The current structure – in which states primarily fund institutions and the federal government primarily helps students – still leaves huge affordability gaps, he said.
The current positive signs from states also don’t mean that the industry’s original calls for Covid help in Congress have been exaggerated, according to the American Council on Education, the leading U.S. pressure group on higher education. Although he has asked Congress for $ 120 billion and now sees institutions recovering with a federal bailout close to half that amount, the danger is not yet over, said Terry Hartle, vice-president. -Senior chairman of the board for government relations and public affairs.
“For many schools, students and campus employees, federal funds have helped avert what could have been a financial disaster,” said Dr. Hartle.
And now, as institutions are closing campuses again because of Omicron, further financial losses seem possible. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he added.