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College tuition is never going back to pre-recession levels

Students protest a proposed budget that would increase tuition at the University of Maryland in 2012.
Students protest a proposed budget that would increase tuition at the University of Maryland in 2012.
Mark Gail/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

After years of cutting away at higher education funding, states have begun increasing their commitments to universities.

Don't expect tuition prices to fall.

Public tuition sticker prices have risen by 28 percent (after adjusting for inflation) since 2007, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, as states' higher education budgets fell during the great recession.

But in the last fiscal year, spending actually grew by, on average, 7 percent. Still, if history is any guide, it's not going to get much better for students and families. This chart from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, also in the new report, shows why:

Screen_shot_2014-04-30_at_4.51.58_pm

The chart shows the percentage of the costs of education that students have borne. The shaded areas represent recessions. Students have picked up more of the tab as state budgets falter in tough economic times.

But even when there's a recovery, students don't tend to get a break; at best, a good economy lets states and colleges maintain the status quo. The trend line goes only one way: up.

Meanwhile, states are using the revenue recovery to cut taxes, the report notes — cuts that effectively lock in the lower spending levels for higher education.

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