When the great recession hit in 2008, most state legislators, including those in Washington, made up for a shortfall in revenue by cutting funding to higher education. That’s why college tuition skyrocketed over the past few years, often by double-digit amounts, at public colleges and universities across the country.
But two states — North Dakota and Alaska — have taken advantage of rapidly-improving economies in their states to put money back into higher education.
A Hechinger Report story out this week tells why North Dakota pumped more than a quarter of a billion dollars into the University of North Dakota in recent years, along with $80 million into North Dakota State University and another $179 million for public colleges and universities statewide.
One reason it did so was because it could — oil and gas revenues are booming in that state, and while even blue-collar jobs like truck driving can net an employee $60,000 a year, the real money is in the types of jobs that require a college degree. A petroleum engineer, for example, makes more than $160,000 a year, and those jobs are in such high demand that North Dakota has been importing people from other states to fill such openings, according to Hechinger.
North Dakota increased spending per student by 38.6 percent between 2008 and 2014, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Alaska has also increased state spending per student, by 3.5 percent. Every other state in the country has cut state spending to public colleges and universities.
In Washington, for example, spending is down 27.8 percent per student over the same time period. That’s more than the average national cut of 23 percent.
“People here have made that connection” between higher education and the economy, Andy Peterson, CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, told Hechinger reporter Jon Marcus in explaining the state’s investment.
“We understand that 70 percent of all jobs are going to require a college education by somewhere around the year 2020, and we’ve got to grow our own.”