National Issues Seen through the Lens of Institutional Data

In discussing and charting the dramatic shift from state support to tuition as the major revenue source for public colleges and universities, we typically focus on national or state-by-state data.

But we can also chart that data for individual institutions. For example, here is such a chart for Pennsylvania State University:

Tuition vs State Support at Penn State

The advantage of considering this issue more narrowly is that it brings it even closer to home for individual listeners and readers. The institutional data makes it easier for them to visualize the money coming directly out of parents’ or students’ checking accounts.

Moreover, framing the institutional data within the broader state or national data causes people to see this more pointedly as both a personal issue and a broader societal issue, the sort of perception that is generally a prerequisite to galvanizing large numbers of people into action.

Somewhat more cynically, the institutional data allows us to make the inverse of the selective arguments that the administrators at private institutions continually present to deflect concerns about rising costs: just as they reflexively point to comparable institutions at which costs have been rising even more dramatically, almost all of us can point to states in which out-of-pocket tuition costs have risen less dramatically because the reductions in state support have not been as severe.


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