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State College Budget Woes Spread Nationwide

January 15, 1991

Undated (AP) _ The worst college money crunch in memory is forcing rare midterm budget cuts at schools in at least 25 states and making double-digit tuition increases a virtual certainty next fall.

″There is widespread pain, and anticipated pain, nationwide,″ said Robert Aaron, a spokesman for the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, based in Washington.

Higher education’s woes, considered mainly a Northeastern problem just last fall, have spread to states like California, Florida and Minnesota.

At least half the states have announced midterm appropriation cuts, even more than during the recession in the early 1980s, said Richard Novak of the land grant association.

″More states are making mid-year changes than I’ve ever seen, and virtually all are negative,″ said Edward R. Hines, a professor of educational administration at Illinois State University who edits The Grapevine, a journal of higher education finance.

He and others said students across the country next fall can count on double-digit tuition increases not seen since rates at public colleges rose an average of 12 percent in 1983.

Hiring freezes, fewer and more crowded classes and cuts in student counseling are already the rule on public campuses around the country:

- The University of Florida has lost about $17 million in state aid this year, suspended most hiring and may cancel some spring course sections as well as much of summer school.

- At Virginia Tech, class sizes have tripled in some disciplines as 131 vacant faculty jobs have been eliminated since the fall semester. ″If you’re up near the top (of the auditorium) you can’t even see the teacher,″ said Michele Gunter, a sophomore from Roanoke, Va., whose introductory biology class has swelled to 500 students.

- Massachusetts, in the throes of a 2-year-old state budget crisis, has cut higher education spending $175 million so far this year to $522 million. Tuition at the state’s 29 campuses has risen 50 percent in the last 2 years, with further increases likely. Over 1,100 staff positions have been eliminated.

″The quality we’ve built up over the last 12 years will be lost,″ said Terry Zoulas, a spokesman for the board of regents. Morale is ″the lowest I’ve ever seen. There’s a feeling that nobody cares.″

- California’s new governor, Pete Wilson, unveiled plans Thursday to cut higher education spending 1.6 percent for fiscal 1991-92 to $5.5 billion. Included would be a 20 percent rise in student fees, which students are protesting as a stunning departure from a long tradition of more gradual increases.

- In Minnesota, which faces a projected $1.2 billion budget gap in the coming two-year period, the state university’s Board of Regents voted to close the 20-year-old Waseca campus 75 miles south of Minneapolis, with 1,042 students and 125 faculty and staff members. Also proposed is elimination of the University of Minnesota radio station, which began broadcasting in 1912.

Nationwide, state higher education appropriations totaled $40.8 billion in 1990-91, according to the Center for Higher Education at Illinois State University.

But state spending over the last two years was up just 11.6 percent, the smallest increase in 30 years. In many states, higher education budget growth is lagging behind inflation.

Relatively thriving Western states including Nevada, Idaho and Hawaii, and several in the Midwest like Nebraska, Kentucky and Iowa are bucking the downtrend and boosting college spending.

But the worst problems by far remain in the Northeast. Spending over the past two years has actually dropped this year in three states: by 20 percent in Massachusetts, 7 percent in New Jersey and 1 percent in Rhode Island.

City University of New York and the University of Delaware recently announced rare mid-year tuition increases to offset budget deficits.

To help fill a $61 million budget gap, the State University of New York raised tuition by $150 during both the spring and fall semesters, the first midterm increases in the system’s 42-year history.

Among cutbacks so far: less snow shoveling at the Buffalo campus, the swimming pool at SUNY Cobleskill was drained and about 400 courses systemwide were canceled.

″You’re going to see soon that students won’t be able to finish their degree in four years because they can’t fit everything in,″ said Norbert Haley, spokesman at SUNY Cortland. ″They’ll have to stay another semester or two to get courses they couldn’t get into.″

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