Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding

Section 3: Public Research Universities Have Been Hit Harder than Public Higher Education in General

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The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education

While public higher education in general has been hit by cuts in state support, public research universities have been hit harder. Between 2008 and 2013, inflation-adjusted state appropriation support for public higher education per FTE student declined by 26.3 percent in the median public research university. Of the 138 public research universities for which there was comparable data, inflation-adjusted support per FTE student declined by more than 20 percent at 98 institutions, and declined by more than 40 percent at 29 institutions.10

To be sure, tuition increases have abated recently in response to modest increases in state support in 2013 and 2014. Indeed, states that have continued with deep cuts are now the outliers. In Washington State, the latest budget reportedly provides for tuition reductions of 15–20 percent at four-year institutions, making it the only state to provide widespread tuition cuts.11 Other states have experienced modest increases in state support, but with corresponding tuition freezes. For example, the University of California recently agreed to freeze resident undergraduate tuition for two years in exchange for additional state support of 4 percent per year for two years. California expects to raise nonresident tuition by 8 percent.12

Public research universities are increasingly reliant on tuition and fees in the wake of cuts in state appropriations. Data shown represent public research universities that are members of the Association of American Universities. Source: COGR Costing Committee, “Finances of Research Universities, June 2014 Version” (New York; Washington, D.C.: Council on Governmental Relations, 2014).


10 Analysis of IPEDS data, see National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS [Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System] (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences),

11 Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, “Dramatic Cuts to College Tuition in Washington State: Will Others Follow?” The Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2015,

12 Bay City News, “University of California to Freeze Undergraduate Tuition for California Residents for 2 Years,” May 14, 2015,