Issue Briefs


The gaps between higher education funding and the public need to increase access and degree attainment are large and growing. Finding resources to meet the needs of the future will require better accountability for costs in higher education.

This brief offers policy advice to state fiscal policymakers on postsecondary education spending priorities for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Delta Cost Project has partnered with Jobs for the Future to release a report about the cost–return of student success programs, including a calculator that allows programs to determine their own cost–return from increases in student retention.

America faces a growing crisis in public postsecondary education, as an unprecedented fiscal meltdown plays out at a time of growing consensus about the urgent need to nearly double levels of degree attainment. Instead of taking steps to develop an investment strategy to reduce access and achievement gaps, we are moving in the opposite direction: reductions in state finances, increases in tuition, cutbacks in enrollments, and reductions in courses and programs students need to succeed.

The topic of performance relative to funding (i.e., productivity) is one of the most strained conversations in postsecondary education. Those called on to support the enterprise—policymakers and business leaders—routinely ask productivity-related questions, just as they do of any other public entity that seeks their support. In return, postsecondary education leaders provide well-crafted but often unrelated responses. Understandably, they are trying to avoid the difficult question: Are we productive relative to what?

To understand why tuitions are increasing at institutions of higher education, policymakers need to look at the relationships between cost, price, and subsidy. This brief explains how to understand those relationships, what the trend data show at a national level, places to go for more information, and questions to ask.


In recent years the shine on higher education has begun to tarnish, beginning with a system of financing widely believed to be stretched to a breaking point. Tuitions have rapidly increased, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing many families’ ability to pay. This issue brief focuses on the presentation of aggregate measures of sector-level trends in revenues and expenditures.