PROVIDENCE - Rhode Island’s public colleges have increased tuition over the last five years in an effort to help make up for lost state revenue, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Since the 2007-2008 fiscal year, average tuition at Rhode Island’s public institutions has increased by $2,907, the seventh largest increase in the country.
Steep tuition increases are not only a trend in Rhode Island, but are occurring at public colleges and universities throughout the country.
According to the report, average annual tuition at four-year public colleges has increased by $1,850, or 27 percent, between the 2007-2008 school year and the current 2012-2013 school year.
“Tuition increases have been both substantial and widespread,” the report reads.
After adjusting for inflation, the average tuition at public four-year colleges has increased by more than 50 percent in seven states, more than 25 percent in 18 states and more than 15 percent in 40 states.
In two states, Arizona and California, tuition has increased by more than 70 percent.
Tuition in Rhode Island has increased 36.6 percent in this time frame, the 12th largest percentage increase in the country.
According to the report, “Significant boosts in federal student aid and in the value of federal tax credits have reduced the impact of these tuition hikes on students and their families, but only partially so.”
In 2009, the federal government increased Pell Grant awards for low-income families and expanded a higher education tax credit that helps middle-income families with incomes up to $80,000 for an individual and up to $160,000 for married couples.
While federal aid has increased, the majority of states have not increased financial aid to offset rising tuition costs.
Funding cuts not only impact students, but the universities as well.
The report states that data on spending public institutions suggests that the colleges and universities have constrained spending in recent years to make up for the loss of funding, including laying off staff, furloughing employees, increasing class sizes and eliminating programs.
“Nationwide, employment at public colleges and universities has grown modestly since the start of the recession, but that growth has been well below the growth in the number of students,” the report states. “Between the 2007-08 and the 2011-12 school years the number of full-time equivalent instructional staff at public colleges and universities grew by about 6 percent, while the number of students at these institutions grew by 12 percent. As a result, the ration of students to instructors grew from 19.7 to 1 to 20.9 to 1 during that period.”
In five states – California, Mane, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire – the number of full-time equivalent staff fell at public colleges and universities between the 2007-08 and 2012-13 school year, even as enrollment grew.
The report concludes, “Strengthening state investment in higher education will require state policymakers to make the right tax and budget choices over the coming years. The weak economic recovery and the need to reinvest in other services that also have been cut deeply means that many states will need to raise revenue to rebuild their higher education systems. At the very least, states must avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder for them to invest in higher education, strengthen the skills of their workforce, and compete for the jobs of the future.”
This news came just after the University of Rhode Island announced its plan to freeze tuition for the 2013-2014 school year. The university also announced this week that it received a record number of freshman applications for admission for the fall 2013 semester.