Cuts to Higher Education May Hinder Postsecondary Completion

Author: Helios Education Foundation

May 22, 2015

Arizona is spending 47 percent less this year per college student than it did in 2008, which is a larger percentage cut than any other state in the nation.   Florida spending is down by 25 percent.   In the past seven years, tuition has increased more than 83 percent at Arizona public universities and more than 64 percent at Florida public universities, according to a recently released report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.   These steep tuition increases may hinder student’s ability to complete a postsecondary education. 

“This report is very sobering,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation.  “The dramatic decrease in state funding for higher education may put postsecondary education out of reach for students with limited resources.”

As a gateway to intellectual growth and diverse careers, postsecondary education including certificates, licenses and college degrees, opens the door to opportunities. Individuals who attain a higher level of education tend to have higher incomes, pay more taxes, are less likely to be unemployed, require fewer state supported services, save more for retirement, and in general live longer. Postsecondary education also provides the kind of skills and knowledge that are vital to success in today's global economy including the ability to create, innovate and think critically to solve complex challenges.

Degree completion is also a critical component to economic growth and stability.   The Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will  require some form of postsecondary training.  In addition, we know that employers cannot find people with the skills they need to fill all of their current job openings, much less those that will be created in the future. In a recent survey, a third of employers cited “lack of technical competencies/hard skills” as their main difficulty in filling jobs — up from just 22 percent in 2011.[1]

From a global perspective, the United States is trailing other countries in postsecondary degree attainment.  As other countries have increased their degree attainment rates, the United States has fallen to 15th place among 34 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) member countries in the percentage of 25-34 year olds with an Associate’s level college degree or higher.[2]   Experts estimate that the United States needs to increase our degree attainment rate to 60 percent in order to remain globally competitive.[3]  We are currently at 40 percent.[4] 

The state funding cuts also raise concerns about diminishing the quality of education at a time when  postsecondary degree attainment and a highly educated workforce is more important than ever before.   Both Arizona and Florida should provide sufficient funding for higher education to keep college affordable and it’s quality high while making financial aid available to those students who need it most.  This is the best way to develop the skilled and diverse workforce needed for the jobs of the future.

This shift to higher tuition for students has happened over a period when absorbing additional expenses has been difficult for students and families because their incomes have been stagnant or declining during the Great Recession.   Tuition jumped nearly 28 percent between 2007 and 2014, while real median income fell roughly eight percent over the same time period. 

This has damaging consequences, especially for low-income students.  Research has consistently found that the rising cost of college results in declining enrollment.  While financial aid is often available to help students bear the price, research suggests that a high sticker price can dissuade students from enrolling.   This is especially true for low-income students and will likely contribute to the widening gaps in college enrollment between higher – and lower-income youth.

“Ultimately, this is about improving lives and strengthening communities,”  said Luna.  “We must change the conversation so that education is seen as an investment and not an expense.  We should be willing, at the state level, to invest in ensuring more students have access to a postsecondary degree. “

[1] Lumina Foundation -

[2] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, 2011,



Category: Postsecondary Success

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