Tuition at public colleges has increased in all 50 states over the past 10 years—here's how your state compares

Arizona State University graduate students are seen in their seats during their graduation ceremony. May 13, 2009, in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Today, nearly 20 million students are enrolled in American colleges, and they are paying some of the highest costs in history — even at public colleges and universities.

From 2008 to 2018, the average tuition at four-year public colleges increased in all 50 states. On average, tuition at these schools has increased by 37%, and net costs have increased by 24%. According to a report released Thursday from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, lackluster state funding is a major reason for rising costs.

The CBPP report analyzes state funding for higher education and published in-state public college costs from the 2008 school year to the 2018 school year. Researchers Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman and Matt Saenz found that funding for higher education has not rebounded to pre-recession levels in most states, and that college costs are rising as a result.

From the 2008 school year to the 2018 school year, 41 states spent less per student, after adjusting for inflation. During that time period, states spent an average of 13% less per student — about $1,220.

Here's how higher education funding per student has changed in each state since 2008:

The CBPP report says limited state funding has contributed to rising college costs, citing figures from the College Board which estimate that annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $2,708, about 37%, since the 2008 school year.

"It really does start to beg the question of what constitutes public higher education," Michael Mitchell, lead author of the report and Senior Director and Counselor of Equity and Inclusion at the CBPP told reporters on Wednesday. "Nearly every state has shifted the responsibility of funding higher education from the state to students over the last 25 years, with the most drastic shift occurring in the past decade."

Several of the states with the biggest drops in per-student spending have seen significant tuition increases.

In Louisiana, for instance, published tuition at public four-year colleges and universities has doubled since the 2008 school year. In Alabama and Arizona, tuition at public colleges and universities is up by more than 60%.

Per-student funding for higher education has increased in nine states since the Great Recession — New York, Montana, California, Alaska, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota and Illinois — but average tuition at public universities has still increased in all 50 states.

Mitchell said college costs can rise even in states that increase funding because there are other factors that influence college finances.

"[State funding] is a factor — a relatively sizable factor — but other things also play a role," he told CNBC Make It. "Health-care cost, retirement costs for faculty and staff, infrastructure, things like that. While state spending is one variable, it exists in a broader range of calculations."

Here's how the tuition at public colleges and universities has changed in each state since 2008:

As tuition costs have increased, so have student debt levels. Across the country, Americans owe over $1.6 trillion in student debt.

"Rising tuition threatens affordability and access, leaving many students and their families — including those whose annual wages have stagnated or fallen over recent decades — either saddled with onerous debt or unable to afford college altogether," reads the CBPP report.

Still, earning an advanced degree remains a crucial part of preparing for the economy of tomorrow, the researchers said. 

"Getting a college degree is increasingly important for individuals seeking better employment prospects and greater wages," said Mitchell. "Indeed, we know that communities benefit when more residents have college degrees. Areas with highly-educated residents attract stronger employers who pay higher wages. And this, in turn, can boost the area's economy so that the wages of all workers at all levels of education are higher."

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