Dying on the vine

A new report highlights a disturbing trend for higher education funding

The Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University released an official survey Tuesday documenting how 41 states are increasing funding for higher education. The survey also shows, however, that state-level funding of higher education has decreased in the past decade. Since Virginia is one of the states that has been appropriating less for higher education, the general trends project possible concerns on the horizon. Although circumstances differ throughout the states, decreases were more prevalent than increases, with nationwide funding for higher education declining 7.6 percent from fiscal year 2010-2011 to fiscal year 2011-2012.

The survey, called “The Grapevine Report,” uses data collected by Andy Carlson of the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). The data is drawn from a three-part questionnaire that includes a section about funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, a section on state tax appropriations for higher education, and a section asking for data on non-tax state support for higher education.

The Grapevine Report revealed that 31 states have increased state appropriations on higher education for the 2013 fiscal year. In addition, although there was an overall decrease in funding of 0.4 percent compared to last year, this is a considerable improvement from the 7.5 percent decrease the year before.

As one of the nation’s top public institutions for higher education, the University relies on state appropriations for more than 10 percent of its funding. As illustrated by the Grapevine Survey, the decline of these appropriations, however small, has great effects on the University community, tuition costs and general preservation of our esteemed rankings.

Examples abound. Faculty salaries have stagnated in the past two years, as University President Sullivan pointed out last month. “Supplementing faculty salaries through endowments and raises must now become the highest priority for the Board of Visitors,” she said. Tuition increased 3.7 percent for in-state students in 2012 after a decade of even more significant increases that were as high as 19 percent in 2004. And in spite of these cuts, the University’s high 86.3 percent on-time graduation rate signifies that a rise in state appropriations is not only necessary, but a good use of the taxpayers’ money. Although this year there was a 4.9 percent increase in state appropriations for the University – up from a 14.7 percent drop last year – it is crucial that legislative officials continue to restore funds in the years to come.

Attracting the attention of legislative officials is not easy, but there is no doubt that the results of the Grapevine Survey must be taken into account for the University to maintain its outstanding student programs and academic reputation. A strong endorsement from the state and its legislators is a pivotal component of maintaining the legacy of the University, its founder and its cherished students.

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