Press Release

American Academy of Arts and Sciences “The Lincoln Project” Examines Changes in State Financing of Higher Education


Review of challenges faced by state governments will inform recommendations in support of public higher education

CAMBRIDGE, MA | SEPTEMBER 30, 2015 – With cuts of more than 20 percent per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, state support for public higher education is below its 2008 level in 46 states. Public research universities, in particular, have been hit still harder. Between 2008 and 2013, state-appropriation support declined by more than 26 percent in the median public research university.

These are some of the findings from Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding, a new publication released today from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. An initiative of the American Academy, The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education is studying the importance of public research universities, analyzing economic trends affecting their operation, and recommending new strategies to sustain these institutions.

Additional context for the state financing of higher education offered by Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding includes:

  • Between 2008 and 2014, thirty-six states cut inflation-adjusted spending per FTE student by more than 20 percent, 19 states cut by more than 25 percent, and 10 states cut by more than 30 percent.
  • While states once spent more on higher education than Medicaid, the reverse is now true—and the gap is widening. States now spend more than twice as much on Medicaid as they do on public higher education.
  • State spending on correctional institutions has grown much faster than education spending over the past three decades. In 11 states, corrections has now surpassed higher education as a percentage of funding.
  • Tuition increases have abated recently in response to modest increases in state support. States that have continued with deep cuts are now the outliers.
  • Public higher education is perceived as a relatively flexible budget item—a rarity among mandatory spending programs elsewhere in state budgets.

“The Lincoln Project is making a serious effort to understand all of the factors that influence state governments as they adjust their contributions to public research universities,” said American Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “A full understanding of this context will help to guide the committee’s recommendations, and should be useful in the ongoing discussion of the costs and benefits of public higher education.”

“Public research universities play a critical role in the American economy, and in the lives of millions of Americans,” said Kay Bailey Hutchison, former United States Senator from Texas and Lincoln Project member. “Yet in state budgets, higher education competes for resources in areas that are either difficult or impossible to cut. We owe it to Americans who can be served by these institutions to make substantive recommendations informed by a deep understanding of the reality on the ground, as described in our latest publication.”

Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding is the second in a series of publications from the American Academy's Lincoln Project. This publication was based on analysis by Donald J. Boyd, Director of Fiscal Studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The first publication of The Lincoln Project, Public Research Universities: Why They Matter demonstrated the vital public good that public research universities represent in the nation. The co-chairs of The Lincoln Project are Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, and Mary Sue Coleman, President Emerita, the University of Michigan.

Funding for The Lincoln Project is provided by generous support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation, and Robert and Colleen Haas.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research, which has resulted in influential reports like The Heart of the Matter—cited by members of Congress in their request that the Academy undertake a new study of language learning—and Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, focuses on higher education, the humanities, and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. The Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.