Sunday, October 16, 2005

Does being a public university mean anything anymore?

Apparently not.

Don't miss this article from this morning's NYT. State tax revenues are going to public universities far less than they once did, prompting some university officials to worry that their institutions are barely public anymore.

The key statistics:

The share of all public universities' revenues deriving from state and local taxes declined to 64 percent in 2004 from 74 percent in 1991. At many flagship universities, the percentages are far smaller. About 25 percent of the University of Illinois's budget comes from the state. Michigan finances about 18 percent of Ann Arbor's revenues. The taxpayer share of revenues at the University of Virginia is about 8 percent.


The average in-state tuition nationwide for students attending four-year public colleges increased 36 percent from 2000-01 through 2004-05, according to the College Board, while consumer prices over all rose about 11 percent.

Another measure, the average percentage of state tax revenues devoted to public higher education, has declined for several decades. About 6.7 percent of state revenues went to higher education appropriations in 1977, but by 2000, universities' share had fallen to 4.5 percent, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

Stanley O. Ikenberry, a president emeritus of the University of Illinois, says he believes that most state legislatures remain committed to supporting public higher education but that as budgets shrink, it is more difficult to cut programs like Medicaid, public schools and prisons.

"The higher education budget serves as the default place to make the cut," Dr. Ikenberry said. Nonetheless, he avoids the word "privatization," saying, "It's not a productive way to talk about what's happening now, but more a way of describing where we may be heading."

Dr. Ikenberry is wrong. It's not a description of where we may be heading, it's a description of where we are heading. We're not there yet but we're well on the way and we're picking up speed.


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