Wide Variation Found in Tuition Rates of Public Colleges

By Sheppard Ranbom — May 09, 1984 3 min read

In order to balance the books of their public systems of higher education, some states must charge far more tuition than others, suggests a new study of the financial underpinnings of state colleges and universities.

Conducted for the National Institute of Education, the study analyzes the relationships between taxation, population, enrollment, and tuition levels in each state to suggest how they compare in terms of funding and tuition per student, among other measures.

Tuition charges per student at public colleges in Vermont, for ex-ample, represent the highest in the nation, according to the study. The public institutions there took in $3,420 per student in tuition this academic year--more than six times the $515 and $519 in tuition per student averaged by similar institutions in California and Connecticut, respectively, the study indicates.

The study, “How States Compare in Financial Support of Public Higher Education, 1983-84,” was conducted for the nie by the higher-education researcher Kent Halstead.

It is one of a series of reports designed, the researcher writes, to provide governors, state legislators, and citizens with comparative data on school and college finances to help them assess the “adequacy of tax rates and program funding.”

Tuition Revenues

States with low appropriations to colleges--such as New Hampshire ($1,925 per student this year), Vermont ($2,450 per student), South Dakota ($2,486 per student), and Ohio ($3,063 per student)--rely heavily on tuition revenues to operate their public colleges, Mr. Halstead says. By contrast, Hawaii, which this year provided appropriations of $5,190 per student, this year charged an average of $600 per student in tuition.

This wide variation, according to Mr. Halstead, reflects in part the fact that some public colleges and universities enroll many out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. Comparisons between the level of public-college enrollments and the number of in-state high-school graduates indicate that “both residents and non-residents are attracted to attend public institutions in such states as Arizona, California, Wyoming, Kansas, Oregon, and Colorado,” he writes.

Public colleges in Arizona this year enrolled more than four times the number of people who graduated from the state’s high schools last spring, but the enrollments at public institutions in Maine and Pennsylvania this year total less than double the number of in-state high-school graduates last spring, according to the analysis.

Funding Needs Vary

The study found that states with higher-education systems that emphasize graduate education, public service, and research--such as Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, and Utah--"require funding up to 20 percent more per student than the national average, and up to 40 percent more” than systems that emphasize undergraduate and two-year training.

By contrast, California and Nevada, which have a large proportion of students enrolled in two-year colleges, are “funded acceptably with appropriations 15 percent below the national average,” the study says.

Seven Richest Localities

The seven localities richest in tax revenues (excluding Hawaii) operate the “least expensive” public higher-education systems, Mr. Halstead notes, because they emphasize attendance at four-year and two-year colleges. These include Alaska, California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming.

According to the study, “states and their residents are the primary supporting agencies for public higher education.” About 70 percent of the schools’ operating funds (excluding government grants and contracts) came from state and local government appropriations, while tuition revenues provided another 18 percent of funds for public colleges.

Among other findings:

Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa have the highest percentage of high-school graduates per thousand residents, while Florida, the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, and Nevada have the lowest. Minnesota, with 16 graduates per thousand residents, last spring had 65 percent more graduates than the lowest-ranking state, Florida, with 9.7 graduates.

North Dakota has the highest full-time-equivalent college enrollment per 1,000 citizens. Arizona, California, and Wisconsin also have large public systems relative to their populations. Maine and Pennsylvania have the lowest college-enrollment rate per 1,000 citizens.

The share of tax revenues appropriated for public higher education varies from a high of 17.6 percent in Mississippi to a low of 5.2 percent in New Hampshire.

A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 1984 edition of Education Week as Wide Variation Found in Tuition Rates of Public Colleges