Higher Education Starved for Tax Dollars?

by Don Boudreaux on January 18, 2010

in Education, Myths and Fallacies

Here’s a letter that I just sent to the Washington Post:

University of Virginia history professor Elizabeth Thompson says that “state funding has plummeted” for public universities (Letters, Jan. 18).

The facts say otherwise.  Data from Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy show that from 1994 to 2008 inflation-adjusted state tax appropriations to higher education rose by 32 percent.  And if we go back to the heyday of the “anti-tax movements” that Ms. Thompson blames for the alleged starvation of public colleges and universities, we find that higher education receives, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 53 percent more state funding today than it did in 1981.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

I calculated these figures from data found here (and using the Minneapolis Fed’s inflation calculator to adjust for changes in the value of the dollar over these time periods).

What about on a per-student-enrolled basis?  It appears that Ms. Thompson still has her history wrong.

2007 is the latest year for which I can find reliable data on students enrolled in higher education in the U.S.

In 2007, enrollment in public universities was 21.2 percent higher than it was in 1994 (while inflation-adjusted funding in 2008 was 32.0 percent higher than it was in 1994).

In 2007, enrollment in public universities was 39.8 percent higher than it was in 1981 (while inflation-adjusted funding in 2008 was 53.1 percent higher than it was in 1981).

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