Education is one of the key ways that children from modest backgrounds have traditionally done better financially than their parents did before them. In the past, a great number of students from poor backgrounds have greatly benefited from state colleges, which provide in-state students with subsidized tuition and make going to college more affordable. This has meant that living the American Dream was available to almost everyone who worked hard and did well in school.

But, in recent years, significant cuts to state colleges by state governments have put the state college ideal of an accessible education into jeopardy since they have forced state schools to either increase tuition and rely more heavily on tuition payments from out-of-state students. These cuts have impacted in-state students and made college significantly less accessible.

I would also suggest that it has negatively impacted the states themselves and that it is in states’ best interests to provide better funding for state schools.

Higher Education Is Key to Economic Growth

A strong higher education system is key for both regional and national economic growth. A 2012 report prepared by the U.S. Department of Education, found that investments in higher education helped create jobs, boost the country’s competitiveness, and encourage income mobility. That means that more students than ever need to be going to college in order to be productive members of the workforce.

But rather than increasing investments, in light of strong demand, states have been decreasing their investments. According to the Centre for Budget and Policy Priorities, between 2008 and 2015, after adjusting for inflation, states cut $13.3 billion from annual college funding.  

More Out-Of-State Students Means Less Low-Income Students

To survive, schools have had to attract out-of-state students and they do that in part by increasing the amenities available on campus – as described in a recent article in The Nation, which found that schools like the University of Arizona have invested heavily in things like pools and luxury residences in order to attract students who could pay higher tuition bills. But those new students don’t stop schools from having to raise tuition prices for in-state students as well – perhaps in part to pay for the added amenities. That has meant that increasingly only students who can afford to pay or have access to private loans to supplement their federal loans can attend college.

According to Ozan Jaquette who studies the subject at the University of Arizona, there is a relationship between state funding and the number of out-of-state students and this impacts the number of low income students who are part of that college community.

In a paper in The Journal of Higher Education, which he coauthored with Bradley R. Curs and Julie R. Posselt, Jaquette said, “If we envision the student body as a pie chart, with various student populations representing slices, the slice of low-income students narrows as the slice of out-of-state students grows, with a greater shift at highly ranked institutions and at institutions in high-poverty states.”

Benefits of Educating State Residents

Low-income students who miss out on going to college because of state funding cuts won’t be the only people who lose out if they’re not able to achieve their version of the American Dream. Their lack of education will have an economic impact on their state since the state’s workforce will be less educated.

In addition, local college graduates are up to 10 times more likely to contribute positively to their community and their state through volunteer work and political activity than high school dropouts. They are also far less likely to have to rely on public assistance programs – thus saving the state money.

States Need To Stop The Cuts

In a country where people often talk about how the key to success is to work hard, it’s shocking that state governments are taking action to make achieving success almost impossible for countless young people. What they don’t realize in the political expediency of cutting funding for state colleges is that these types of cuts have long-term impacts on the residents of their states and, as a result, important implications for their state economies and future state budgets.

Rather than cutting state funding for colleges, states should instead be increasing their investments in higher education in order to encourage social mobility and ensure that their workforce is as well educated as possible in this competitive global economy.