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28 States To Cut Higher-Education Budgets

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At least 28 states will cut their higher-education budgets this fiscal year, leading to tuition increases, program cuts, and enrollment caps, according to a survey by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

In the 19 states that have already experienced midyear cuts in higher education, tuition rose an average of 14.4 percent, compared with 6.9 percent in states not undergoing rescissions, the association found in its eighth annual state-budget survey.

Four of the 19 states expect further budget reductions this year, according to the report. In addition, nine other states expect to see budget reductions later this year.

The long-term consequences throughout the decade may be "rather severe" for public higher education, according to James Appleberry, the association's president.

And while tuition and fees are rising, the AASCU study found that financial aid is not increasing at a comparable rate. Over all, the average national increase in tuition and fees between the 1990-91 and the 1991-92 school years was 13.6 percent, compared with an average aid increase of only 5.36 percent.

The report also asserts that the recession makes the need for financial aid even greater for many students.

"We as a nation are going to have to decide if we are going to keep the tradition alive of investing in the mind power of our young people," said Mr. Appleberry.

Delayed Graduations

On average, public institutions of higher education experienced a net budget increase of 0.69 percent from fiscal year 1991 to 1992, failing to keep pace with the 3.1 percent rate of inflation during the period. Thirtyone states saw their higher-education budgets decrease between 1990 and 1991, with the largest decrease--18 percent--in Connecticut.

The AASCU survey also found that budget cuts have been absorbed primarily by freezing unfilled faculty and staff positions and by cutting course sections.

As a result., more students will not graduate on time because they have been closed out of required classes, Mr. Appleberry noted.

For the most part, despite the enrollment caps, admission standards have not become more competitive, Mr. Appleberry said. Instead, many institutions are adopting a "first come, first serve" policy, closing admissions when they reach a designated enrollment.

"If we see caps," said David Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education, "you're talking about shutting the door on educational opportunity for people. That access is especially critical for low-income people."

In particular, Mr. Appleberry cited the impact of retrenchment in New York City, where the City University of New York system currently has a backlog of 15,000 applicants for whom there is no space.

On the brighter side, however, he observed that the reductions have spurred institutions to eliminate courses and administrative functions that are not as viable, and as a result they have become more "lean and mean" competitors.

State colleges and universities are "being hit by a variety of forces: the need to create more opportunities for low-income and minority students, to keep up with developing fields of knowledge, to retool their physical plants, and to keep up to date technologically," Mr. Merkowitz noted, "so there's a lot of balancing that will have to go on."

Federal mandates place added pressures on public colleges and universities by diverting state funds to such programs as Medicaid and corrections, Mr. Appleberry said. "Their discretionary funding has shrunk to almost nothing," he said. "We need to make sure the states get some relief from mandated programs."

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