In a welcome reversal from the year-ago trends, state support for higher education has actually risen in most states during the current fiscal year, according to a survey conducted by the Center for the Study of Higher Education Policy at Illinois State University.

Florida led the pack of states with funding increases, with a rise of 11.1 percent in the Land of Jeb Bush, followed closely by Virginia, where state higher education support rose 10.6 percent. Rounding out the top five states with significant increases in funding were New York (7.9 percent), California (7.6 percent) and Alaska (7.4 percent).

All told, 22 states upped higher ed funding by at least 3 percent, 20 states kept their funding flat or supported a slight increase and only eight states chose, through the actions of their legislatures and governors, to decrease support for higher education.

The biggest cuts were felt in West Virginia, where state support for higher ed dropped by 3.9 percent. Texas and Illinois tied for second place in the category of higher education grinch, with support in the Longhorn State and the Land of Lincoln dropping by 1.7 percent in both locales. Other states experiencing cutbacks were Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon and Wisconsin.

As you might suspect, when states do slice support, then tuition increases often result, placing a greater burden on students and families. There is not always a direct correlation, however, as at least two of the states with increased higher ed support (Virginia and California), were also places where tuition has spiked upward.

In general, however, the greater support for higher education in a state over the long-term, then the less pressure there is for tuition sticker prices to rise and the greater ability there is for state public institutions to offer aid packages to those students who qualify for financial assistance.

At College Parents of America, we have been concentrating most of our lobbying efforts at the federal level, where there are plenty of pocketbook issues to focus on, most notably maintaining and increasing tuition tax deductibility, improving the federal student loan program and making sure that adequate federal resources are put toward student grant aid.

Arguably, however, much of the most important action affecting the greatest number of families and their pocketbooks occurs in the states. The vast majority of college students attend a public institution in their home state. So in addition to supporting our efforts in Washington on the national level, I encourage you to get politically active in your own state and to urge your local state delegate, or state senator, and even your governor, to support more funding for higher education.

While most legislators are college educated themselves, and do recognize the important economic development benefits that a college or university brings to a community, there is a larger force at work which argues against increased state support for higher education.

It is a numbers argument, pure and simple, but it is not without a great deal of irony. It goes like this: More students are graduating from high school every year and are applying to in-state schools. With so many students vying for a fixed number of seats, the laws of supply and demand kick in, and the price of college is “forced” up by market forces. This problem is only going to get worse in the next few years, in most states, as the high school graduation class of 2010, today’s 7th graders, will be the largest in U.S. history.

By 2012, the bubble of the college-age population, made up of those between ages 18 and 24, will be bigger than it’s ever been, bigger even than during the height of the baby boom. This means upward pressures on tuitions for at least the next seven to eight years. And it means that College Parents of America – both our leadership here in Washington and all of you out in the field – must be more vigilant than ever in holding lawmakers’ feet to the fire when it comes to support for higher education.

I assure you that we will do our part in the nation’s capital; please let me know if you want to get involved in your home state and we, in turn, can connect you with some like-minded individuals in order to support your efforts.

Meanwhile, happy holidays to you and the current and/or future college students in your family.

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