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States' aid to public colleges has fallen 28 percent since 2008

A student reads on the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES) - RTXPCFN
A student reads on the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES) - RTXPCFN

(Reuters) - State governments, which have been battling slow economic growth, cut aid to public colleges for five years and now spend 28 percent less per student than they did in 2008, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The reductions in every state except Wyoming and North Dakota average $2,353 for the 75 percent of undergraduates who attend public colleges and show few signs of easing soon, according to the study's lead writer, Phil Oliff of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The rate of decline has moderated somewhat, but we don't see clear signs that states are reinvesting in their higher education systems," Oliff said in a conference call with reporters. "They are coming out of an enormous hole."

Revenues for state governments have risen for nearly three years, but are not matching the bounceback after previous recessions, with the rate of increase slowing in the 2012 third quarter, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

The cuts by state governments range from nearly $4,800 annually per student in New Mexico to $561 in Alaska and have spurred tuition hikes at public colleges, staff cuts, larger classes and the elimination of courses and departments, the study said.

"Thirty-six states have cut funding by more than 20 percent, with 11 states cutting funding by more than one-third. Two states -- Arizona and New Hampshire -- have cut their higher education spending in half," the study said.

Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and Alabama were among states that pulled back most sharply on college aid, while New York, North Carolina and Maine made the smallest reductions in the years tracked in the study.

Tuition at four-year public colleges has grown on average by $1,850 a year, or 27 percent when adjusted for inflation, since the 2007-2008 academic year, the study said. Tuition in Arizona and California has shot up more than 70 percent.

Other big percentage hikes were in Florida, Georgia, Washington state, Hawaii and Alabama.

State policymakers need to ease away from tax cuts and to consider increasing revenues to reinvigorate their public colleges, the study said.

(Reporting by Michael Connor in Miami; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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