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October 08, 2013

The recession may be over but its effects still linger at public colleges and universities.

After facing declining revenue during the longest recession since the 1930s, many state governments continue to defund public institutions of higher learning.

A new report released this month by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center finds state funding for public higher education in Massachusetts has fallen 25 percent since 2001.

That’s more than in 43 other states. While state support has decreased in Massachusetts, tuition and fees have skyrocketed.

Noah Berger, President of the Policy Center, said lower funding has unfairly shifted the cost of college onto students and families who can least afford it.

“For low- and middle-income kids who are trying to do the right thing – to do what’s best for them and our economy, to get a good education –it’s making it more and more expensive for those families,” Berger said in a phone interview.

Cutting back on higher education puts long-term economic growth at risk because research shows a correlation between how well educated a state’s workforce is and how many good, high-wage jobs are available.

Despite the long-term decrease in funding, the state did approve a big increase in July. Governor Deval Patrick signed a $34 billion state budget that included more than $1 billion in higher education spending – nearly a 16 percent increase over last year. Patrick also approved the full $479 million appropriation for the University of Massachusetts, which allowed the system to freeze tuition and fees for students in this academic year.

For years, state funding for higher ed in Massachusetts’ community colleges had largely followed enrollment. Now, in the wake of the recession, the wave of performance-based funding is cresting across the country: 12 states already link higher education funding to performance; four states, including Massachusetts, are preparing to move in that direction, and another 20 are considering it.

In July, WGBH's On Campus took a closer look at the way public higher ed institutions are funded.

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