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Education: a debt due from present to future generations. —George Peabody


Report: Hillman helps explain how cuts take heaviest toll on colleges serving low-income students

January 05, 2017

The Hechinger Report recently published an article that examines how state budget cuts to higher education across the nation tend to hit colleges that serve the neediest students the hardest.

As the report from Jon Marcus notes: “States have cut spending on higher education since the last recession by a collective $8.7 billion a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or CBPP.”

Among the experts Marcus interviewed in an effort to put this topic in perspective is UW-Madison’s Nicholas Hillman, an associate professor with the School of Education's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Hillman studies higher education finance and policy, and his research focuses on how policies affect educational access and success.

Marcus’ report begins: "When a state budget impasse drained money from public universities and colleges in Illinois beginning in 2015, some were forced to lay off hundreds of employees, shorten their semesters, even warn they might shut down. Enrollment plummeted. Credit ratings fell to junk status. Chicago State University, for instance, which has a student body that is mainly black and Hispanic and drawn from its neighborhood on the city’s South Side, cut 300 workers from its payroll and — its very future in limbo — managed to attract fewer than 100 new freshmen in the fall.”

The story continues: “The flagship University of Illinois, far more of whose students are white and wealthier, was not immune from the predicament. But with cash reserves to tap, and an increase in enrollment that brought in more tuition revenue, it has suffered a far less drastic impact from the still-ongoing budget crisis.”

In other words, such budget cuts “have been uneven,” reports Marcus. “A closer look shows they’re taking a greater toll on colleges and universities such as Chicago State that serve low-income and nonwhite students, while flagships that enroll larger proportions of whites from higher-income families have been less affected.”

Hillman explains to The Hechinger Report how, among other issues, changes in funding calculations that reward or punish institutions based on such things as their dropout and graduation rates are disproportionally affecting community colleges and regional public universities. Hillman ­­-- who also is a faculty affiliate with UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs, and is a Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) faculty affiliate -- has conducted important research on this so-called “performance funding.”

In a study of colleges and universities in Tennessee, The Hechinger Report notes, “Hillman found that performance funding was siphoning more money to the top public universities with the most white and higher-income students, while the campuses that enrolled more racial minorities and low-income students lost ground.”

Higher education “isn’t just reinforcing inequality, it’s exacerbating it,” Hillman tells The Hechinger Report.

To learn much more about this important topic, and Hillman’s thoughts about it, check out the entire article for free on this Hechinger Report web page. The Hechinger Report is a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

This report was also picked up and distributed by PBS NewsHour.

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