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States Raise Budgets for Colleges and Universities, But Does That Mean Jobs?

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Did you see this headline recently, “States Raise College Budgets After Years of Deep Cuts”?

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal was, as they say in the newspaper biz, top –of-the-fold news. And it either got a chuckle or a loud and boisterous “Amen.”

According to the Census Bureau, tax revenue in 47 states rose last year, with collections up an average of 4.5 percent.

Said Julie Bell, the education group director at the National Association of State Legislatures: “It’s going to be a better year for higher education.”

Let’s hope so.

Since the dark days of the 2008 financial crisis, the first cuts often came at the expense of public higher ed. Class sizes went up. Tuition costs rose. Scholarships were cut. Teacher salaries were frozen or reduced. Hiring went into a deep freeze, and fewer people did more things for less money. After all, you can’t make up all the cuts on deferred maintenance. You don’t save that much on paint and plumbing. But you do if you start cutting back on people.

As one who has taught at both the state university and small private college level, I am pleased to see that suddenly happy days are here again for higher ed. As an adjunct, I knew I was in the classroom as much for me as I was for the students. Teaching was a nice way to recharge my batteries by sharing professional knowledge with a new generation.

But I also knew my honorarium barely covered my expenses. The difference in tuition and what I cost them in a full-time teacher salary represented a significant profit for the schools.

I was only too glad to help the public system — that is, as long as you didn’t ask me when I was correcting a load of finals and term papers. Now I hope that as states have more money, they’ll remember all those people who were cut back when times were tough.

I hope they’ll remember all the full-time teachers and adjuncts that are a part of the college education equation, because the money should be there now.

In the last five years, state spending on colleges and universities has fallen, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. From a high of $80 billion in 2008, it’s actually dropped to about $72 billion.

After adjusting for inflation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says all but two states are spending less per student this year than they did in 2008. That’s not just belt tightening. That’s five years of fasting.

Already, we’re seeing the purse strings loosen a bit. In California, where we now have a surplus of over a billion dollars, Governor Jerry Brown is proposing spending as much as $2,500 per student through 2016.

Some legislators are arguing for more scholarships for the middle class. All good. Students should be the focus. But let’s not forget all those on the front-lines in the classroom.

Too often the talk focuses on job creation from the perspective of the graduate and the jobs for them after college.

But people forget the immediate impact of the real job creation that comes when institutions of higher learning are well-funded in their mission.

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