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During the first half of 2013, state legislators crafted and passed budgets under much improved fiscal conditions. Later in the year, college students and their parents got a bit of relief of their own: The average cost of tuition and fees at the nation’s public four-year schools had risen by the lowest rate (2.9 percent) in more than 30 years, according to the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2013.” It is a pattern seen time and again: Increases in state higher-education spending (the result, in many cases, of improved fiscal conditions) lead to smaller, or even no, hikes in tuition.

It is no secret that state funding to universities has been declining over the last several years, and universities are trying to find ways to make up the loss. One of the more popular ideas is increasing the number of foreign students, who generally pay higher tuition rates than in-state or other US students, even preferring them to higher-achieving US students. 

So, how much is a college education worth? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports individuals with just a high school diploma are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, those with four-year degrees earn, on average, more than one-third as much as adults with no college degree or certificate. That amounts to more than $400 per week, or, looked at another way, approximately $900,000 more over a lifetime in today’s dollars.

Stateline Midwest ~ June 2013

Improved state budget conditions and continuing concerns about the cost of higher education have resulted in plans across the Midwest to freeze tuition.

Stateline Midwest ~ June 2013

Ever since he joined the legislature more than a decade ago, North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll says, lawmakers have been looking to change how the state funds its higher-education system.

This year, he says, “We were finally able to crack the code.”

Policymakers know America’s educational system must transform to significantly increase the academic achievement of all students. A high-quality education, including content mastery and real world application, is critical to prepare students for college and careers. In order to ensure student success, leaders must tackle these top 5 issues facing states this year.

As states seek to maximize the return on their investment for higher education and continue to seek a more educated and skilled workforce, they likely will turn increasingly to outcome-based funding formulas as a mechanism to accomplish these goals.

This Act requires the state higher education coordinating board consider certain performance indicators when devising base formula funding recommendations for funding public institutions of higher education. These include degree completion rates and the number of degrees awarded in critical fields. The Act defines critical fields as the fields of engineering, computer science, mathematics, physical science, allied health, nursing, and teaching certification in the field of science or mathematics.

The Act requires higher education institutions help eligible students locate temporary housing between academic terms upon the students’ request. Students are eligible if they were under the conservatorship of the state department of family and protective services immediately before turning 18 or becoming a legal adult, lacked housing between academic terms, and were enrolled full-time before or registered full-time after the period when housing assistance was needed.

Engineering students at Florida’s public universities may soon pay less for tuition than, say, English majors. Physics majors could get a tuition break over psychology students. A task force appointed by Governor Rick Scott has released a report recommending students in so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) should receive a break when writing checks or taking out loans to cover their tuition.

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