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Coming This Fall: Big Tuition Hikes

For a telling example of the money troubles facing public colleges and universities, consider Pennsylvania. On June 30, Governor Tom Corbett signed a state budget that slashes funding for higher education by 19 percent, and school officials smiled with relief.

For universities, it could have been much worse. In March, Corbett introduced a budget proposal that called for a 50-percent cut to higher education. But improving state revenues and a public backlash against the proposal led lawmakers to pare back the governor’s plan. In the end, Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities walked away with a painful but manageable cut that will result in tuition increases of 7.5 percent this fall.

Students elsewhere will not be so fortunate. Double-digit tuition increases await public university students in Louisiana, Tennessee and Nevada, all as a result of reduced state funds. In New Hampshire, lawmakers followed through on what Pennsylvania only talked about doing: cutting higher education funding in half. A 48-percent funding reduction has the University System of New Hampshire warning that it will face its most challenging academic year ever, and students and parents will feel the pain in the form of tuition hikes of up to 9.7 percent.

New Hampshire’s cut came as a “major and unanticipated shock,” says Matt Cookson, a spokesman for the university system, “especially in light of the traditionally low level of financial commitment to higher education” that the state has shown in the past.

At least half the states cut funding for higher education in their recently concluded legislative sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In most cases, higher tuition will be the inevitable result. Some of the most dramatic increases will come in the biggest states. The 240,000 undergraduates in the Florida public university system will see 15 percent tuition hikes for the third consecutive year. In California, where 530,000 undergraduate students attend public universities, tuition hikes of up to 12 percent are coming after state funding reductions of more than 20 percent. This follows a 32-percent tuition hike at the University of California system just two years ago, which produced such discord that administrators had to be escorted onto campus by security personnel.

But the year’s most dramatic example of collegiate sticker shock will likely come in Washington State. There, the budget that lawmakers approved this year imposes a 24-percent cut in state funding. Tuition will go up 20 percent as a result.