When do public universities cease to be public?

Public higher education has faced declining federal funding since the 1980's when Ronald Reagan cut higher education spending by 25%. States began to follow suit in the 80's as well. The shift of paying a greater share of the cost of higher education from the tax payers to the students accelerated in the wake of the great recession of 2007 and never recovered.

Some states have decided to get out of funding higher education at all. In 2012, Arizona was among the first dominoes to fall.

“In the last couple of years, as we’ve come out of the Great Recession, many states have increased support for higher education to restore funding that was taken away when states were most affected by the economic downturn,” he said. Hartle cited Louisiana, where the governor and Legislature are addressing a budget shortfall and looking at higher education cuts, and said, "In other states we've seen significant proposed cuts to higher education, but proposing to take away all support for community colleges as Arizona has really sets the standard."

Earlier this week, the Arizona Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey moved to pull all state funding for the Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts -- two of the largest in the state. Central Arizona College in Pinal County was saved by the Legislature and will continue to receive about $2 million in state support. The cuts are following an annual trend in Arizona in reducing money for higher education. But what is striking in Arizona is the drop from at least several million dollars to zero.

read more: Arizona unprecedented in defunding community colleges

Now it looks as though another southwestern state has decided to follow suit, this time with all higher education funding on the line.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed higher education funding. All of it — and the legislature cannot override her veto.

What does this mean for students? Nothing good. If the situation isn’t resolved — and an immediate fix looks unlikely — college students could face significant tuition increases at public universities, and institutions of higher education can’t prepare budgets for a school year that starts in several months.

read more: New Mexico Gov. Martinez vetoes higher education funding. All of it. - The Washington Post

While there is some thought that the latest move by Gov. Martinez is political theater attempting to achieve her budget goals, it sends a chilling message to students who would likely be picking up the tab for any budget shortfall.

Whatever the outcome, the fact is that some states are already precariously close to not funding their state universities. For example, at the University of Oregon, state appropriations made up only 7% of total revenue in the most recent fiscal year, 2016.

So what does it mean when states just stop paying the bill for a college or university? What level of control can state legislatures expect to retain over the way that these institutions are run? While the answers to these questions haven't been worked out yet, it's looking like more states will be grappling with them as they they balance their budgets on the back of higher education.

This post first appeared on AdvancingDiversity.com

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