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Indicator IV-5 State Funding for Higher Education
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated 9/20/2013. FY 2013 data are reported in Figures IV-5b and IV-5c. In Figure IV-5a data could be reported only through FY 2011 because not every jurisdiction had yet supplied the total broken out by funding type. This indicator was also augmented with a figure depicting the 2008‒2013 change in funding level for each state.

Currently, no data exist on states’ commitment to the humanities departments of the nation’s postsecondary institutions. This indicator can thus describe only state appropriations for higher education generally. In so doing, however, it does suggest the conditions under which humanities departments on the campuses of public colleges and universities must compete with other fields for funding.

According to the annual Grapevine Survey, state tax appropriations for higher education rose almost every year from fiscal year (FY) 1965 to 1990 (Figure IV-5a). Then, after a short period of decline, expenditures began rising again. By 2002, states were spending a record $85.0 billion (in 2011 dollars) on postsecondary education. State spending then dropped 11% from the peak year of 2002 to 2005. This was the largest three-year decline (in both absolute and percentage terms) ever recorded by the Grapevine Survey. Appropriations increased each year from 2005 to 2008, but then fell over the next two years before rising slightly in 2011.

Figure IV-5a, Full Size
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Starting in 2008, the Grapevine Survey started to supply information on additional sources of funding for higher education, including nontax revenues (from lotteries, fees, court settlements, and other sources) and monies from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.1 In 2011, those additional sources of funding accounted for almost 8% of the funds channeled through the states to their institutions of higher education. Due to those additional monies, funding for higher education in 2011 was only 7.4% lower than in 2008 despite a decline in state tax revenues of 11.1%.

Such national figures, however, mask substantial differences among the individual states in their monetary commitments to higher education. Grapevine data reveal that, while the median state investment2 in higher education was approximately $237 per capita in 2013 (down from $276 in 2008), the level of state investment ranged from $64.83 per capita in New Hampshire to more than ten times that amount ($666.54) in Wyoming (Figure IV-5b).3 In total dollars, California, which has the largest number of students enrolled in its public colleges and universities ($2.2 million as of 2011), spent the most on higher education ($8.84 billion).

Figure IV-5b, Full Size
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State-level changes in higher education funding from 2008 to 2013 also varied, but the trend was downward in 46 of the 50 states (Figure IV-5c). Four states (Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, and New Hampshire) all cut their allocations to higher education by a third or more over that five-year span. The state median was a 17.2% reduction. Only four states increased their allocations from 2008 to 2013: Illinois (11.0%), Alaska (12.2%), Wyoming (21.3%), and North Dakota (24.2%). (These states also had some of the highest per capita spending levels for 2013.)

Figure IV-5c, Full Size
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1 The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund was a U.S. Department of Education–administered component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (commonly known as the "Stimulus"). The fund was designed to “stabilize State and local government budgets to avoid reductions in education and other essential public services while driving education reform in four key areas: teacher effectiveness and inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers; rigorous college- and career-ready standards and assessments; targeted, intensive support and effective interventions to turn around struggling schools; and pre-K-through-college-and-career data systems” (

2 In a ranking of values in ascending order, the median is that value below and above which an equal number of values fall. The median is used as an alternative to the mean (average) when the set of values in question contains a small number of extreme values that result in a mean that provides a misleading impression of what constitutes a “typical” value for that data set.

3 In Figures IV-5b and IV-5c states are classified by quintile. Quintiles divide a set of values ranked in ascending order into five equal groups, each constituting one-fifth of the values.

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