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Posted on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Human development & education: How far can we cut?

By Wayne Baker

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Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the Global South.

Investing in education pays off. It’s clearly helping to raise the Global South, a region chalking up unprecedented economic and human development.

So, why are we slashing education?

It could be because cutting is our default public policy under a deadlocked government. This week, we reported the big news from the United Nation’s 2013 Human Development report: the rise of the Global South and the activist pro-development governments that lead them. These governments provide free universities to top students. The U.S. isn’t investing enough money to fix its infrastructure problems, but Southern governments invest a lot to build infrastructure and create jobs.

Today, we return to the issue of education. In contrast with the South, the U.S. (in 48 of 50 states) is slashing budgets for higher education. On average, states are spending 28 percent less per student, according to a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

What have these reductions meant? The report’s authors tally the losses: “cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut-down computer labs, and reduced library services, among other cuts.”

Where have the cuts been the deepest? Arizona leads the list, reducing state spending per student, from 2008 to 2013, by more than 50.4 percent. New Hampshire is a close second (cuts of 49.9 percent), with Oregon, Louisiana, and Florida also reducing spending by more than 40 percent. My home state of Michigan has reduced state spending per student by a third (cuts of 32.4 percent) since 2008.

Who has cut the least? Only North Dakota and Wyoming are not spending less; each has increased its budget per student. Those that have made comparatively small cuts are Alaska (-3.2 percent), North Carolina (-14.6 percent), New York (-14.7 percent), and Maine (-15.7 percent).

Few states have opted to make up the shortfall by raising taxes. Rather, public colleges and universities have had to raise tuition. Arizona has raised its tuition by a whopping 78.4 percent. Other states that have increased tuition by more than 50 percent since 2008 include, California, Florida, Washington, Georgia, Hawaii, and Alabama. Maryland and Ohio are the only states that have increased tuition by less than 5 percent.

How do you feel about cuts in education?

Would you support raising taxes for education?

What about the other questions we have raised this week?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.