Special Report

States Investing the Most in Higher Education

Michael B. Sauter

Detailed findings and methodology:

The states that spend the most per student include Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota — states with lower population density and much smaller public education systems compared to other states. There are roughly as many public colleges and universities in those four states combined as there are in the entirety of Arkansas.

“The outliers, Alaska, Wyoming are similar in two ways,” Carlson said. “One, they have a lot of tax revenue coming in from the extraction of natural resources, and two, they don’t have a lot of people to spend that money on. So on a per-student basis, they have a very well-funded public education system.”

The states with the lowest overall spending are Vermont and New Hampshire. The two New England states likely spend the least per student on public higher education because the region has a large and well-established network of private colleges and universities, Carlson explained.

“At some level, the public sector [in Vermont and New Hampshire] has fallen in line with the high tuition, high aid model that the private sector utilizes,” said Carlson. Indeed, while Vermont and New Hampshire spend relatively little to fund colleges and universities, the states’ higher education institutions have some of the highest net tuition revenues per student.

Vermont, in particular, had the highest tuition revenue per full-time enrolled student as recently as 2016. In 2017, it recorded tuition revenues of $14,732 per student, compared to a national average of $6,572 per student. That figure was second only to Michigan’s revenue of just under $15,000 per full-time enrolled student.

To identify the states spending the most on higher education, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state higher education investments per full time student in the 2017 academic year. How states allocate money to public colleges and universities varies, but the majority of the money goes to general operations of the institutions with the rest going to various forms of student aid. These figures come from “State Higher Education Finance (SHEF): FY 2017,” a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). Net tuition, defined as out-of-pocket tuition payments excluding financial aid, room and board, and other fees, also came from SHEEO. Educational attainment rates came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. The number of public higher education institutions came from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and are for 2017. The number of state colleges and universities reflects public postsecondary institutions listed in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which is part of the National Center for Education Statistics.