The “Great Recession” of 2009 has brought an unprecedented level of financial chaos to public higher education in America. Programs are being reduced, furloughs and layoffs are widespread, class sizes are increasing, sections are being cut, and students can't get into classes needed for graduation. Enrollment losses upwards of several hundred thousand are being reported—and only time will tell whether the situation is even worse. Reports of budget cuts in public institutions in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 percent (Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Florida, and California) are becoming common. Halfway through the 2009–2010 fiscal year, 48 states were projecting deficits for 2011 and 2012 (NASBO, 2009).
Although states are reluctant to raise taxes, they evidently have less of a problem letting tuitions go up. And up they are going—California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Wisconsin, and Florida announced increases ranging from 10 to 33 percent. The normally tuition-resistant Florida legislature has authorized annual increases in undergraduate tuitions of 15 percent per year until they reach national averages for public four-year institutions. Around the country, the increases are setting off student protests reminiscent of the 1960's, variously directed at campuses, system boards, legislatures, and governors—complete with reports of violence and arrests.
Published in Change (May/June 2010).