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How Public Colleges Across the Country are Coping with Budget Cuts

Sep 5, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Times are tough for public colleges and universities. Many states are facing alarming budget shortfalls, forcing them to make painful cuts to the private sector—and public higher education is feeling the brunt of it. Here are just a few ways state and community colleges are dealing with budget cuts—and how the burden is falling on students and professors.

Tuition Increases

At some colleges, tuition is expected to rise as much as 20% in the coming year. In Florida, where the state has cut its college and university budget by over $150 million, public universities will cost as much as 15% more. In New York, where the state has forced public colleges to give some of their money to the general state fund to decrease the deficit, Stony Brook University is passing the costs on to students with a $1,000 tuition hike.

Fewer services

In all cases, students at public universities are paying more to get less. If you’re attending a public college in the next year, expect fewer library hours, fewer tutors and teaching assistants, fewer programs, and fewer classes. In some schools, it’s now difficult even to get into classes required to graduate. Some schools are slashing entire degree programs if demand is low.

Cutting Money With A Saw

Tough economic times affect everyone—and when states slash higher education budgets, both professors and students suffer.

Larger class sizes

For classes that still run, sizes have exploded. In Arizona, for example, public colleges have let thousands of professors go and slashed hundreds of classes. The classes remaining are bigger in size—it’s not unusual to be packed into an auditorium-style classroom with 200 other students. This gives students less access to professors, less individual instruction—and according to many, less quality of education.

Difficulty getting into classes

If you want to get into a certain class at your public college this coming year, register early. As a result of reducing the number of professors and classes taught, many classes are full far before they’ve satisfied demand. Whereas before students who needed a class to graduate or maintain their financial aid status were usually able to find a seat, now it’s much more difficult to get in—and some find themselves facing serious consequences when the door is shut on them.

Harder work for professors

A heavy workload has settled on the shoulders of professors who stay at budget-challenged public schools—but many are glad simply to have a job. Still, professors at these schools put in a high number of unpaid hours and have less time to grade papers thoughtfully or conduct research. Many colleges now require professors to take unpaid furlough days, adding to the burden.

Stricter enrollment requirements

Community colleges have traditionally been far more accepting of students with lower GPA’s than highly competitive private schools. However, some schools in embattled states are responding to budget cuts by dramatically reducing enrollment—leaving many students out in the cold. California State University, for example, is planning to enroll 28,000 fewer students than it originally planned to in the next year because of budget shortfalls.

Tough economic times affect everyone—and when states slash higher education budgets, both professors and students suffer. If you’re considering enrolling in a state school, consider avoiding one in states such as Florida, California, Arizona, and Wisconsin—where budget problems have been widely publicized in the news. Research the solvency of your school’s state as well as the quality of its academics—and hopefully you won’t wind up making the wrong decision.


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