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Press release/statement

New Demos Report Examines State Funding Cuts in Higher Education Since the Great Recession

NEW YORK, NY—Today, national public policy organization Demos released a new report detailing the impact of state disinvestment in higher education since the beginning of the Great Recession. The report release coincides with the launch of Higher Ed, Not Debt, a campaign with over 60 organizations dedicated to supporting borrowers, addressing unfair lending practices, and reining in soaring costs in higher education.

The Great Cost Shift Continues: State Higher Education Funding After the Recession finds that every state, excluding North Dakota, spends less per student now than before the Great Recession. Over that same period, average tuition at 4-year public universities increased by 20 percent. Today, seven out of 10 college seniors now graduate with an average debt load of $29,400.

Other key findings:

  • DEEP CUTS: Since the recession began, 28 states have cut per-student funding by more than 25 percent.
  • ESCALATING TUITION: Tuition at public 4-year universities rose by an average of $1,282 since 2008.
  • FAMILIES PRICED OUT: Average tuition at 4-year public schools now consumes more than 15 percent of the median household income in 26 states.

“The diminishing affordability of higher education is eroding one of the last secure pathways into the middle class,” said Robert Hiltonsmith, Policy Analyst, and co-author of the study. “The growth of our debt-for-diploma system has only intensified since the Great Recession.”

“State higher education funding on a per-student basis is lower today than it was in 1980,” said Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Research and co-author of the study. “In order to stop this trend where families are being priced out, we need to return to a system where debt is the exception, not the norm. States must lead the way and expand access for the next generation.”

The Great Cost Shift Continues is a follow-up to The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the Future of the Middle Class, which put state funding for higher education trends in a larger context, underscoring the consequences for the current generations of students. In 2013, Demos also released At What Cost: How Student Debt Reduces Lifetime Wealth, a study that shows how student debt impedes upward mobility for those struggling to repay their loans over their lifetime.

The Higher Ed, Not Debt campaign is comprised of over 60 organizations, including Demos, Generation Progress, the Center for American Progress, Working Families, Young Invincibles, Student Veterans of America, AFT, SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AAUW, Jobs with Justice, NYPIRG, New York Students Rising, Our Time and more. With leading experts from youth, policy, labor and grassroots organizations, this multi-year campaign will focus on advocating for new funding models to reinstate the country’s once debt-free system of higher education.


Demos is a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy. Learn more at