Public Colleges Struggle for Ways to Evolve Amid Competing Demands

Nearly five years after the official end of the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression, plenty of colleges are still suffering, and not just the tuition-dependent private ones.

Even as some states have renewed their support for public higher education, a combination of long-term demographic change, governmental imperatives, and resistant stakeholders have forced layoffs at some institutions. Public colleges in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have all announced or proposed faculty cuts since the start of the academic year.

In addition to facing most of the same pressures as their private counterparts, public colleges increasingly have been getting their appropriations with strings attached, says Karen L. Kedem, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, the credit-rating agency. “The public universities had to keep tuition flat or have only modest increases,” she says. “Their arms were tied as it related to a lever they’re used to pulling when state funding is constrained.”

Hardest hit have been regional comprehensive universities, generally second-tier institutions that offer low-cost graduate and undergraduate education aimed at meeting local work-force needs. Comprehensive colleges, which enroll more than two-thirds of all undergraduates attending public four-year institutions, are “the backbone of American higher education,” says Alisa Hicklin Fryar, a University of Oklahoma political scientist who studies them. <Read more.>

Via Don Troop, The Chronicle of Higher Education.