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US Austerity Continues to Empty Student Pockets as Public Universities Crumble

Common Dreams staff

(Photo: Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

In an economy marred by the financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures, public universities are continuing to gut programs, fire teachers, and raise tuition at alarming rates, an analysis by Reuters shows. As a result, the cost of education for the average student has continued to sky-rocket, as the quality of education suffers and national student debt continues to rise above the $1 trillion mark.

According to the Department of Education, costs to attend a public four year university have gone up by more than 70 percent over the last decade. Between 2008 and 2010 alone costs increased by 15 percent due to state budget cuts.

The biggest education cuts in US history hit after the the economic recession began. In 2011 state and local spending for public universities and their students hit a 25-year-low. Schools such as Ohio State, University of New Hampshire, Penn State and the University of Michigan now receive less than 7 percent of their budgets from state funds.

As costs go up, the quality of education goes down: teachers are continually laid off, given part-time or contract work, or offered low salaries. Students are packed into large classes and have less one on one time with professors.

"The quality of education is a continuous worry and focus," said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and former president of Michigan State University. "As state support has been reduced, states have been looking more to universities even as they're cutting back. You need to have these institutions feel as if they're part of the state."

"Everything went up every year, and it made it pretty tough," said Alicia Halberg, 22, from the University of Washington in Seattle who managed to pay for school until tuition soared 20 percent her senior year. "It's really depressing because it shows our state isn't investing in our future," she said.

Prior to 2008, 81 percent of adults thought the cost of college was a worthy investment; however, that percentage has recently fallen to 57 percent.

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