Defunding Higher Ed: Is Enrollment at Stake?

What happens when a state defunds higher education? As Texas debates how much to invest in its system of higher learning, it might take note of California, where enrollment rates have suffered as state spending has gone down, according to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California.

State general spending for higher education in California has declined in the last decade, and, coupled with the increased demand for a college education, the results are starting to reduce the state’s skilled workforce.

The study—which looked at the enrollment rates of the University of California, California State University, and the California Community Colleges—found that California’s high school graduates are less likely to enroll in any four-year college. This decline even includes the state’s most successful high school grads.

The enrollment declines are a result of California’s public schools attempts to balance their budgets. In response to the reduced state funding, schools have cut courses, programs, and student services. Some have even chosen to cap enrollment to lower costs.

For students, the changes have also meant higher tuition. Both UC and CSU have more than tripled their tuition rates since the early 1990s. Although these schools have seen increased numbers of applications in the past five years, these factors have limited enrollment.

“If current enrollment trends persist, California faces an alarming loss of college graduates,” the study says, “at a time when the state needs to be developing a more highly skilled workforce to ensure its future prosperity.”

Increased state funding, the study states, would reverse the current trends.

What does this study mean for UT? Texas, too, has seen state higher education funding cuts, which have already affected UT’s enrollment, mainly for minorities. The study in California also shows that minority enrollment was affected after funding cuts, leaving Latinos and African Americans underrepresented on college campuses.

The question: is Texas on track toward a similar overall enrollment decline if the state continues to defund higher ed?

Photo courtesy flickr user dmitri_66


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