Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paying for college, the burden shifts to families

Posted By on Sat, Sep 15, 2012 at 6:16 AM

I keep up with the Washington reporting of former colleague Paul Barton, who covers the capital for Gannett newspapers in the South.

He wrote this week on a topic relevant to Arkansas. I suspect you could substitute "Arkansas" to "Tennessee" in most references.

Sen. Lamar Alexander thinks the rise in Medicaid is cutting into the amount states have available for higher education. He proposes a swap by which the federal government takes over all of Medicaid, leaving the states to properly support higher education. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said the states were responsible for themselves on higher education and, what's more, somebody had to look after the sick and poor through Medicaid. Barton's story noted that Tennessee, which once covered two-thirds of higher education costs at public institutions, now pays for a third. Families are making up the rest as costs outstrip increases in the cost of living. Harkin notes, too, that lotteries, the go-to state new money gimmick, preys on poor people. From the story:

Earlier in the hearing, there was a discussion of how higher education systems are responding to a financial environment that put more and more of the cost burden on families.

Tennessee students now pay about 67 percent of the cost of their education at public institutions, with the state covering the other third. Go back 20 years, and the state was paying two-thirds, said John G. Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

A relative decline in state funding combined with rising enrollments are forcing Tennessee institutions to operate in a new way, Morgan said, one that puts an emphasis on “outcomes” — the number of people getting degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded.

Morgan said state planning calls for 43,202 Tennesseans to be earning credentials by 2025, a 60 percent increase over 2010. State officials, he added, view such an increase as critical to economic development, Morgan said.

And population trends, he said, indicate that many more of those students will come from minorities who have traditionally had a harder time financing college.

Programs also have to become more flexible to meet the needs of students who have significant “life commitments” away from campus.

We are having and will continue to have this same discussion here.

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