Ever since the creation of land grant universities in the Nineteenth century, much of mainstream higher education funding has become a responsibility of the states. There are many private institutions, ranging from the Ivy League to vocational schools to, ahem, transient racketeers, but it is the public institutions that collectively get the enrollment. As for the federal government, which started the ball rolling by donating the land that many of these public institutions stand on (including USF - thank you, Congressman Gibbons), seven decades after the GI Bill and six decades after Sputnik, federal involvement is ... complicated ... with research funding flat, financial aid underfunded, and an unfortunate official tolerance of private racketeers.
In this issue, we take a look at current higher education funding, both nationally and in Florida.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon at CDB Restaurant at 5104 E. Fowler Ave., just east of USF Tampa. There will be pizza (and salad). On the agenda: the fall meeting schedule (starting on August 30 - the day of the Tailgate at the USF-Wisconsin game; see announcement below); all UFF members are invited to attend. Come and check us out.
Tailgate at the August 30 Game. UFF will host a tailgate tent at the August 30 football game between the USF Bulls and the University of Wisconsin Badgers. This NCAA game will be at the Raymond James Stadium, and attendees are responsible for getting their own tickets to the game. The UFF Tailgate Tent will is free to all UFF members and their families (we will have membership forms for UFF USF employees who want to join on the spot), and will open three hours before the game in Area 6D. Since we need to know how much food to order (and since attendees will probably want directions to the tent), please RSVP to the Tailgate organizer.
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This year started on such an upbeat note. Grapevine reported that the state governments, buoyed by a decade of economic growth, had increased funding for universities (see also the the Chronicle article). For the 2019 fiscal year, states had budgeted an average 3.7 % increase in higher education funding, part of a national trend to fund education. Of course, Florida was a little behind, raising higher education funding by only 1 %, but it was in the right direction.
But stepping back, this looked more like yet another step in the recovery from the 2008 recession - which was over a decade ago. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - one of UFF's national affiliates - grumped about "A Decade of Neglect", and complained that in the decade since 2008 there had been massive cutbacks in education accompanied by promises of growth-driven increased government revenue - which failed to materialize.
The AFT is not alone. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEOA) reported that "Ten years out from the start of the Great Recession, per-student higher education appropriations in the U.S. have only halfway recovered." (See also the article in the Chronicle). And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported last year that higher education has been cut 16 % since 2008 (see the Chronicle article).
But this didn't start in 2008: the National Bureau of Economic Research (MBER) looked at the last three decades and reported that state appropriations per FTE (adjusted for inflation) fell by a sixth while higher education funding as a percentage of state appropriations fell from 4.2 % to 2.7 %. As state appropriations fell, tuition rose: in 1990, among public universities that are members of the American Association of Universities (one of USF's aspirations), state appropriations funded 30 % of university expenditure while tuition funded 19 %; in 2012, appropriations covered 16 % of expenditure and tuition covered 25 %.
The NBER contended that state appropriations are positively correlated with degree attainment, especially graduate degrees in STEM fields. "The long-standing state-based system for funding public higher education is coming under real strain and may be poorly positioned to respond to changes in the nature of the U.S. economy to increase the supply of college-educated workers."
If this started in the 1990s, what is happening? The Chronicle interviewed two authors of the NBER study, and University of Michigan economics Professor John Bound said that students are becoming more mobile - going to out-of-state universities, and then leaving the state of their alma mater for a job. Consequently, state legislators feel less political pressure from parents and alumni - now increasingly in other states - to support universities. Ironically, the Joyce Foundation issued a report on Off-campus recruiting by public research universities (see the Chronicle article) that financial concerns are inducing universities to compete with wealthier out-of-state or international students at expense of able in-state students.
If Bound is correct about the political problem, then politicians have less incentive than they had in the past to support local institutions, even though, as we head into the Twenty-first century, America has an even greater incentive to support higher education. This is a Tragedy of the Commons situation, with fifty state governments no longer depending on their own institutions so much as all fifty states depending on all institutions. Fixing the problem may require rethinking the way higher education is funded.
The story of the week on how far this has gone concerns Alaska. After the Legislature cut the state university budget, Governor Michael J. Dunleavy vetoed some more, with a cumulative cut of 41 %. This is on top of cuts of $ 200 million over the previous five years. University of Alaska President James Johnsen appealed to Alaskans to contact legislators to ask them to override the veto - and the systems accreditor took the unusual step of warning the legislature of the consequences of the cuts on the system's accreditation. Yesterday, the Alaska Legislature failed to override the veto amidst a squabble over where the Legislature can meet; the Legislature has until Friday to override.
The governor's rationale is particularly interesting. Alaska's oil revenue not only provides all state revenue, but also provides annual payments to Alaska residents. The payment was $ 1,600 last year, and Dunleavy's cuts will fulfil a campaign promise to raise the payment to $ 3,000 this coming year.
And Alaska isn't alone: the University of Puerto Rico has been cut 38 % over the last few years, and anticipates cumulative cuts of up to 56 % as of 2022.
Florida is part of the mess. According to the AFT's "A Decade of Neglect", last year, Florida's education funding was $ 4 billion below that of 2008 (p. 46). Incidentally, in Florida's case, the decline in Florida education funding often ascribed to the 2008 recession actually began in the fiscal year 2006 (late in Governor Bush's tenure), and reversed in fiscal year 2011 (which started late in Governor Crist's term).
Like Alaska Governor Dunleavy, Governors Bush, Crist, and Scott justified their austere budgets by emphasizing the need to cut taxes. But the AFT stooped to observe that Florida had cut taxes not only dramatically but regressively, so that Floridians earning less than $ 17,000 a year paid 12.9 % of their income on state and local taxes in 2015 while those earning over $ 489,000 paid 2.5 %.
Meanwhile, The SHEEOA reported that the state has been shifting the financial burden from taxpayers onto students and their families. Tuition went up in Florida from $ 2,315 per FTE in 2008 to $ 2,792 in 2017 in 2018 dollars (this is 41 % of US average, lower than every other state except California), an increase of 20.6 %. But revenue per FTE went down: $ 10,872 in 2008 (still in 2018 dollars) to $ 9,901 in 2017, 68 % of US average (Florida is the lowest state in the nation). Our appropriations are slightly below average, but our tuition is very low. Low tuition is probably better for the students, but absent state funding, it limits what universities can do for them.
That was the situation in January. Where is Florida higher education now? As the Biweekly observed in the 9 May 2019 issue, USF (and the State University System in general) got dinged in legislative session. Since then, Governor DeSantis vetoed $ 131 million for the universities, including $ 1.7 million for the USF Medical School and $ 200,000 for USFSP's Gulf of Mexico studies, which will impact studying pollution and its effects on the gulf. (An odd decision on DeSantis' part, considering his public stance on the environment.) But perhaps having some qualms about how this looked, the governor also vetoed legislation that would require that gambling tickets carry warnings that gambling is addictive, arguing that as the government's share of the profits goes into education, the warnings would cut education revenue. Of course, cynics observed that the gaming companies running the gambling operation would not appreciate the requirement, and those of us with long memories will recall that the money from gambling was supposed to be supplemental.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, July 12, at noon, at CDB Restaurant, 5104 E. Fowler Ave., Temple Terrace.
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