Two reports released this weekend about how public universities are spending their money have sparked widespread outrage across the country.
One, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, outlined executive compensation at public universities, revealing that college presidents make, on average, nearly $500,000 a year. Nine presidents made more than $1 million in 2012-13, up from four the previous year.
The other report, from the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, looked at executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities. Of these schools, the ones with the highest-paid presidents also have seen student debt and part-time adjunct faculty increase far faster than the national averages.
But other recent studies indicate that rising executive pay isn't what's making public colleges and universities more expensive. Instead, it's declining state support.
In the 1980s, states contributed most of the funds that public universities needed for higher education, Cornell professor Suzanne Mettler writes in her new book, "Degrees of Inequality: How Higher Education Politics Sabotaged the American Dream."
The nation's state universities and community colleges enroll 73% of all college students, but state governments decreased funding for those colleges and universities by an average of 26% from 1990 to 2009, she writes.
As state funding declined, colleges increased tuition 113% over the same time period.
To accompany an essay by Mettler about her findings, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an interactive chart showing how declining state support has affected colleges and universities.
The California numbers alone, pictured in the chart above, are sobering: In 1987,
Universities in other states saw even bigger decreases. The
States are shifting funds away from higher education to elementary and secondary education as well as healthcare, Mettler writes, because laws forced them to provide services for residents in those areas, while higher education spending was considered discretionary. But those states are rewarded for cutting back on higher education because they get more federal aid, which is given to students who must pay higher tuition rates.
"In effect, states that game the system this way rely on taxpayers elsewhere in the nation to finance what they are unwilling to support for their own citizens," Mettler writes.