Blog Posts > West Virginia’s Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity

West Virginia’s Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity

Written by Sean O'Leary on October 4, 2018

A decade since the Great Recession, state spending on higher education has yet to recover from years of deep cuts, including in West Virginia, according to a new report released today from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

West Virginia was one of 45 states that spent less per student in the 2018 school year than in 2008. On average, state spending on higher education at two- and four-year public colleges nationwide fell $1,409 per student, or 16 percent, after adjusting for inflation. In West Virginia, state higher education spending per student fell by $2,370, or 26 percent.

West Virginia State Funding for Higher Education Far Below Pre-Recession Levels

Per FTE state appropriations for 4-year public colleges and universities, 2017 dollars

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

State and local tax revenue is a major source of support for public colleges and universities. Unlike private institutions, which rely more heavily on charitable donations and large endowments to help fund instruction, public two- and four-year colleges typically rely heavily on state and local appropriations.

As a result, state funding cuts have driven up tuition, remains much higher than before the recession in most states. Since the 2008 school year, average annual published tuition has risen by $2,651 nationally, or 36 percent. In West Virginia, average tuition is up by $2,677 for four-year public colleges and universities, or 51.4 percent.

Tuition has increased sharply at West Virginia’s public colleges and universities

Change in average tuition at public, four-year colleges, inflation adjusted, 2008-2018

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The $2,370 cut in per-student funding and tuition increases have made college less affordable, shifting costs from the state to students and jeopardizing quality at public universities.

The cost shift from states to students has happened over a period when many families have had trouble absorbing additional expenses due to stagnant or declining incomes. While tuition in West Virginia jumped more than 54 percent between the 2008 and 2018 school years, while the state’s real median household income has not grown at all.

As tuition continues to increase, incomes remain stagnant or rise slowly, and federal and state financial aid fails to make up the difference — even for low-income students eligible for federal and state aid — debt burdens for students and their families continue to grow. Last year, West Virginia led the nation in student loan defaults.

Long-term cuts to per-student higher education funding threaten affordability, access, and quality at public two- and four-year colleges across the state. To build the workforce the state needs to grow a more prosperous economy, West Virginia needs to direct additional resources into supporting public colleges and universities and reverse the long-term trend of disinvestment.

Download a fact sheet about the impact of higher education spending cuts in West Virginia here.

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