The great state of Alabama is undergoing a budget crises generally and particularly in the higher education sector. In the recent years, the state’s revenues have been on a downward trend and this has occasioned a reduction in the education budget in general. The educational budget is split into K12, secondary and higher education and the greatest victim of the reduced allocations has been the higher education. This has led to serious budget cuts, thus creating a higher education crisis. Unfortunately, when higher education is impacted, it has grave immediate implications and an exponential future impact ( Center on Budget and Policy Priorities , 2016). Whereas the government of the state of Alabama is doing its best to stem the runaway higher education budget crises, a lot more needs to be done even as the situation escalates.
While relying on the State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) 2015 reports, the article by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities creates a clear picture of the dire situation in Alabama’s higher education from a budgetary perspective. According the article, state funding per student in Alabama has dropped by 36% between 2008 and 2016 and is the 5th largest higher education state budgetary cut nationally after Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana and South Carolina. During the same period, the average tuition for public colleges with four year programs increased by US$ 3,757. This difference is not as a result of inflation as the same has been factored in the calculations but directly credited to the reduction in state funding. This compelled the public colleges to undertake cost cutting measures then pass on the surplus costs to individual students.
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The way the state of Alabama plans its education budget is said to be against the national budget as the senator is clearly lamenting that education is over-prioritized in state budgeting over other budgetary vote-heads (Bussman, 2015). The state of Alabama first separates all the monies intended for education, which is usually over 40% of the states total income. The money allocated to education is then shared out between the different vote-heads under state education which includes basis education, secondary education and higher education. Most of the higher education monies go towards subsidization of education in higher education institution, but when faced with a choice between funding elementary education and higher education with a tight budget, automatically higher education gets a lower level of consideration. Normally, the finances allocated for education cannot be diverted even in a crisis although in the 2015/2016 financial year, part of the monies set for higher education was diverted.
Other than the state subsidization, individual students in Alabama can also apply for federal student aid including the Pell grant, Federal Supplemental Opportunity grant (FSEOG), college work-study programs, and federal or state student loans ( Alabama Commission on Higher Education , 2013). However, these programs are only available to few lucky students. The only exception to this rule however, is the student loans system, which is not a grant as it creates a future financial burden for the students. This leaves most of the higher education students in Alabama at the mercy of the state government education support budget. They are, therefore, highly susceptible to the adverse effects of the budgetary cuts, key among them being increased tuition fees.
The research by Coleman, Walker, & Lawrence (2015) gives a detailed analysis on research by educational experts on the impact of budget cuts on higher education. The research shows several positive aspects of increased education budget cuts, which include the reduction of the wastage culture in government higher education institutions. This reduction comes as an act of necessity due to insufficient funds. Further, a more expensive education will be more valued by the student who acquires it. When a student, especially a self-sponsoring not guardian-sponsored student pays more for education, they tend to take academic work more seriously (Coleman, Walker, & Lawrence, 2015). These are some of the advantages being felt in Alabama.
On the disadvantages however, the article cites extreme cost cutting measures as one of the adverse effects. Currently, most programs under state funding involve technical courses, which require a lot of funds to teach and cost cutting measure will entail watering down the course. The second disadvantage lies in the increase in payment of tuition, which limits the number of eligible entrants to higher education institution and also raises student loan repayment burdens. The increase in tuition within the four year period has also contributed to exponential rates of higher education dropout by students (Mitchell & Leachman, 2015). Majority of these dropouts will only be eligible for manual based labor and may find themselves joining the exponentially growing working-poor class in the US. Further, this will negatively impact the state’s economy due to lack of skilled and specialized labor ( Center on Budget and Policy Priorities , 2016).
The state government of Alabama through its legislature has set a $6.3 billion budget for the 2017 educational budget (Lyman, 2016). This is clearly a new trend as it shows an increase in the amount the state has set aside for education. There will be a definite trickle effect to the higher education budget although it may not be enough as there is a need for much more specifically in the higher education arena. Further, state budgets are political instruments and there is fear that senators like Bussman who believe that education is over prioritized can curtail the allocation, one can only hope that the monies will not be diverted. The fact that Alabama admits that higher education is underfunded is however, a step in the right direction for the ending of the higher education budgetary crisis in the great state of Alabama.
Alabama Commission on Higher Education. (2013). Student financial assistance, Retrieved from <http://www.ache.state.al.us/Content/Departments/StudentAsst/StudentAsst.aspx/>
Bussman, P. (2015, August 14). Alabama senator: There is no budget crisis in Alabama (opinion). Retrieved from <http://yellowhammernews.com/politics-2/alabama-senator-there-is-no-budget-crisis-in-alabama-opinion/>
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2016). Cuts to Alabama’s higher education system jeopardize our economic Future. Retrieved from <http://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/sfp_highered_al.pdf/>
Coleman, P. D., Walker, R., & Lawrence, L. (2015). The pros and cons of education budget cuts: An Investigative Study . SA12015
Lyman, B. (2016, April 13). Alabama senate approves $6.3 billion education budget. Montgomery Advertiser . Retrieved from http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/southunionstreet/2016/04/13/alabama-senate-approves-63-billion-education-budget/83011804/
Mitchell, M., & Leachman, M. (2015, May 13). Years of cuts threaten to put college out of reach for more students . Retrieved from< http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/years-of-cuts-threaten-to-put-college-out-of-reach-for-more-students/>