Looking at the types of programs named last month, opponents to cuts see what they call a guise to squeeze a public education system tasked with growing demands and enrollment but declining funding.
"There are people in the policy and political sphere who really feel this issue is getting toward full-blown crisis level," said Robert Hiltonsmith, a senior analyst at New York-based policy center Demos.
According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, 44 percent of nationwide revenue in public higher education in 2012 came from tuition, the highest rate ever.
That's up from just 20 percent 25 years ago, part of a major shift of the costs of higher education from government to families.
"Escalating into a political fight isn't necessarily the way forward," Hiltonsmith said. "We have to get people on board and realize that we can't privatize all of this. It doesn't make any sense economically."
"We're seeing the effects of this with student debt. It's going to further burden people really actually trying to become middle class or stay middle class."