National reports say state is near top in higher ed funding

Facing significant budget cuts, officials of state colleges and universities rarely miss a chance to remind legislators that the state’s share of their funding has declined over the years. But two recent reports say Connecticut still ranks near the top nationally in support of public higher education.

Postsecondary Education Opportunity, a newsletter that tracks higher education policy trends, says Connecticut is one of just six states to increase state funding over the last decade; other states cut funding by an average 18 percent.

“There has been a long term decline in state [higher] education investments — but not in Connecticut,” said newsletter editor Tom Mortenson, who has tracked higher education spending trends for the last two decades. “It really tells an important story… Voters in Connecticut support people that support higher education.”

A separate report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers ranks Connecticut fifth in the nation on per-student spending–$8,450 for each full-time equivalent. That’s the highest in the Northeast and almost $2,000 more for each student than the national average.

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“Look, we’re not so bad,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford. As co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, she said university and college officials remind her often that state support as a share of their overall budget has steadilydeclined.

Officials from the University of Connecticut told the Appropriations Committee recently that state support as a percentage of total revenues decreased from 44 percent in 1995 to 32 percent this year. Officials from the Connecticut State University System and the Community College System outline similar trends.

“The students share more of the costs because state support has declined,” said Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of the 58,300-student community college system. State support to the community college makes up 45 percent of their budget for the current year, an 11 percent drop in the last three years, she reports.

The state has increased overall funding for public colleges and universities by $235.2 million since 2006 — but their budgets have far outpaced that increase.

And the problems may soon get worse. Lawmakers facing a $3.3 billion deficit have indicated cutting state funding for higher education is inevitable, but just how much they will cut remains to be seen. The legislature’s Appropriations Committee will release its budget proposal April 26. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has recommended cutting higher education spending by $143.5 over the next two years.

The State Department of Higher Education also released a report earlier this month saying that Connecticut receives significantly more state funding that their peer institutions.

“Connecticut invests at a very high level compared to other states,” Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said.

But Cox maintains that even if Connecticut ranks well when compared to other states, that is no justification to scale back spending now and join the rest of the pack.

“An educated population will pay off in the end,” she said.