Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Alaska is Leading the College Meltdown. Who's Next?

Related article: Enrollment declines, campus closings, economic losses and the hollowing out of America   


Related graph:  State by State Funding for Higher Education, 2008-2017

In an recent article, titled "Enrollment declines, campus closings, economic losses, and the hollowing out of America," I posted the state-by-state enrollment drops from 2011 to 2018. These numbers are posted here. Alaska was at the top of the list, with a 31 percent drop in enrollment. However, there are other states with significant enrollment losses.

Besides Alaska, New Mexico, Hawaii, Michigan, Illinois, Oregon, Missouri, West Virginia, Montana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin have had the largest enrollment losses. What states do about the losses has varied, from austerity and tax cuts on the right side to prison reduction and social investments, such as free community colleges on the left.

What drives austerity, and higher education cuts, depends on many factors, and politics are important. State economies, movement of people and companies out of state, obligations to K-12 education, Medicaid, and infrastructure, enrollment losses and tax structures also play a large part in how dramatic these cuts will be. Alaska's recent cuts are a worst case scenario, but that doesn't mean we won't see dramatic funding cuts in other states and counties in the coming years.

I was reminded by one College Meltdown reader that Alaska was not the first state to feel Republican slash and burn tactics. Louisiana, under Bobby Jindal, felt it.

In fact, eight states cut funding more than 30 percent from 2008 to 2017: Arizona, Louisiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and New Mexico.

While Democrats and Republicans are diverse within their own parties, we can take a first look at the situation by charting higher education enrollment and state control and make the hypothesis that states with the largest enrollment losses and Republican control of state politics are most vulnerable to austerity, at least in the short run.

My first guess for the most vulnerable states? Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Indiana, and as many as 18 other states, because they are Republican controlled. But many others will have to make tough economic decisions, to increase taxes, reduce funding, and to make cuts elsewhere. This is especially true in states like Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The problem with raising taxes is that many people don't like to pay taxes, and they see higher education as an individual choice rather than a public investment. In some cases, they also see (or hear about) administrative largesse and university amenities that border on insanity.

Smart leaders will look for smart (and just) answers.

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