MEDIA RELEASE: State Higher Education Funding Remains Below Pre-Recession Levels

North Carolina spending per student for higher education is 25 percent below pre-recession levels

RALEIGH (May 1, 2014) – Higher education funding remains well below pre-recession levels in almost all states including North Carolina, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC.  As a result, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition and make spending cuts that may diminish the quality of education available to students at a time when a highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever to the nation’s economic future.

“The jobs of the future will require college-educated workers,” said Michael Mitchell, policy analyst at the CBPP and author of the report.  “For the sake of their economies and their future workforces, states should start reinvesting in its colleges and universities now.”

Most states have begun in the past year to restore some of the cuts they made to higher education funding after the recession hit.  Spending is up by roughly $450 per student, or 7 percent, on average, among states that have increased higher education funding. However, eight states have in fact reduced higher education funding per pupil over the past year, with the deepest cuts coming in North Carolina, Wyoming, West Virginia, Louisiana and Wisconsin. North Carolina is also among the states that cut per-student funding by more than 20 percent since the start of the recession.

Average tuition at North Carolina’s public, four-year colleges increased by more than 34 percent during this time period, yet those increases have compensated for only part of the revenue loss resulting from state funding cuts. Some of the outcomes from these budget cuts have been well-documented on North Carolina’s campuses: elimination of faculty and staff positions, reduced course offerings, and declining purchasing power with state financial aid, among other cuts.  Since 2008, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has eliminated 493 positions, cut 16,000 course seats, increased class sizes, cut its centrally supported computer labs from seven to three, and eliminated two distance education centers.

North Carolina is also among states that made deep cuts to higher education funding while making sizeable tax cuts, the report said. In the years ahead, North Carolina’s public colleges and universities will likely face even greater challenges as a result of the tax plan passed by state leaders last year, which significantly reduces revenue by more than $2.4 billion over the next five years.

At a time when an increasing number of jobs are expected to require some level of postsecondary training, North Carolina families and students have to shoulder more and more of the cost of a college education. Sufficient funding for higher education to keep tuition affordable and quality high at public colleges and universities—and to provide financial aid to those students who need it most—would help states to develop the skilled and diverse workforce they will need to compete for these jobs.  

“Decisions made by state leaders in recent years serve to erode our state’s commitment to higher education and threaten the economic prospects for the Tar Heel state,” said Cedric Johnson, a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “A skilled and educated workforce that can compete for good-paying jobs is not an option, but a necessity, if North Carolina is to become more competitive and meet the demands of a 21st century economy.”

The full report, States Are Still Funding Higher Education Below Pre-Recession Levels, is available at

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Cedric Johnson,, 919.856.3192; Jeff Shaw,, 503.551.3615 (cell).