State spending less per student

Minnesota’s spending per student decreased from $7,521 to $5,362 over four years.

Jamie VanGeest

Minnesota slowly is reducing its financial contribution to students’ higher education expenses.

Nationwide, spending per student went from a 25-year high of $7,121 in 2001 to an all-time low of $5,833 in 2005.

The money Minnesota is spending per student is lower than the national average.

According to a report released Wednesday by State Higher Education Executive Officers, the amount of money Minnesota spent per student decreased from $7,521 in 2001 to $5,362 in 2005, said David Wright, an author of the report.

State support could be decreasing nationally for a few reasons, he said.

First, states are collecting less tax revenue since the economic recession that began in 2001, Wright said. Also, a greater percentage of students are going to college today compared with five years ago.

State Higher Education Executive Officers has collected 25 years’ worth of spending data. Wright said decreased state spending per student is common in times of economic recession. Statewide spending also was down during economic recessions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Another reason for the spending decrease is that higher education inflation is greater than the rate of consumer inflation for other expenses.

“The largest part of (higher education institutions’) costs are paying salaries for highly talented, highly competed-for personnel,” Wright said.

The percent decrease in per- student spending is higher in Minnesota than it is nationwide. Between 2001 and 2005, the national average was an 18.1 percent decrease. In Minnesota, it was 28.7 percent.

“There is no question that Minnesota public higher education is recovering from lean years,” said Barb Schlaefer, communications director for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Over the past five years, state lawmakers have had to allocate more money for health and human services, while dealing with a $4 billion deficit, she said.

The state needs to provide enough money to cover the increased number of students, but the cost of education for these students should go down, she said.

The more students a college or university educates, the more the cost per student should go down, she said.

Wright said parents, students, universities and the state all need to contribute more money to keep up with the higher costs of getting a college education.

Kris Wright, the University’s director of financial aid, said students should be careful when looking at a report like this. Numbers comparing overall state spending and state spending per student can be very different.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Kris Wright said.