New report calls for increases in state appropriations for higher education

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The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities touted the benefits of public education and called for increases in state appropriations for higher education in a report released Tuesday.

While enrollment in public universities has increased by 23 percent since 2000, state appropriations have remained constant, prompting universities across the nation to look to belt-tightening strategies, according to the report.

“Budget cuts have had a big effect on our education, specifically class offerings, making it hard to get the classes we want and graduate on time,” said UC Berkeley student Johnny Garcia Vasquez.

Among the 17 states suffering the largest cuts, per student funding has fallen by almost 20 percent in the past five years, according to the report.

In California, funding for financial aid had has been stretched among a larger body of students as higher education enrollment among low-income students has increased, while the total amount of funding available has remained relatively constant.

At the federal level, funding for financial aid has declined as the requirements for Pell Grant eligibility have tightened. Additionally, interest rates on federal student loans are set to double on July 1.

Ethan Senack, the higher education fellow at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, suggested that interest rates on federal student loans be more responsive to market borrowing rates.

“What young people and students must do is speak up about rising interest rates,” he said.

Public universities are coping with shortfalls in state funding in a number of ways, including consolidating or cutting programs or outsourcing bookstores and housekeeping, according to the report.

“Ninety-eight percent of university leaders are conducting strategic reviews to better manage costs, particularly the costs associated with academic programs and administrative structures,” the report stated.

At UC Berkeley, the campus has endeavored to reduce administrative costs through its Operational Excellence program. The College of Natural Resources has been able to eliminate millions in annual operating costs by centralizing services across departments, according to College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless.

In the last year, public universities have played a significant role in the nation’s economy, particularly in research and development. According to the report, in 2011, universities and research institutes were responsible for 4,700 reports, supported or assisted 671 startup companies and helped develop 591 new commercial products.

Public universities award 1.1 million undergraduate degrees and 400,000 graduate degrees annually. Among those degrees, more than 200,000 came from the fields of science, technology, math and engineering, according to the report.

“Education, including research, is a public investment that provides both a social and an economic return,” the report stated. “Achieving these commitments will ensure greater economic security for America and the next generation of citizens.”

Contact Christine Tyler at [email protected]