In the past few years, many reports have come out about how state funding for colleges have decreased significantly. While this is a multi-year trend, it was exacerbated by the recession. Some states budgets haven’t looked the same since; Louisiana (-34.4%), Arizona (-24.4%), and Nevada (-21.8%) still remain far below their pre-recession higher education funding levels.

These reports often link these cuts in higher education funding to higher tuition costs. This is almost certainly true, but it leaves out a key part of the story.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Kelderman lays out a persuasive argument that the reasons these funding levels affect tuition so much is in no small way due to the interplay of funding and the veritable college attendance boom.

In fact, between 1988 and 2013, full-time equivalent enrollment and public colleges is up a whopping 55%. Without extra funds, schools certainly needed to find a way to cover the costs of educating this number of students.

As Kelderman puts it,

“While there have been cuts in appropriations in recent years, it’s more accurate to say that over time states have failed to keep up with enrollment increases. By my calculations, states would have had to spend a total of nearly $28-billion more in 2013 to make up for the deficit caused by more students’ attending college. That amount is equal to the total higher-education spending of the five largest states in 2013—about 39 percent of the total that all states spent on higher education.”

This provides great context the next time you read about any higher education funding cuts. The cuts themselves may be damaging enough, but the damage is exacerbated by higher enrollment levels. Unfortunately, that damage is often passed on to students and families in the forms of higher tuition and student debt.