The race to the bottom

This is how much we are investing in the future leaders of our state:

Proportion of cost of educating students at public research universities covered by State appropriations Average education and related expenses per FTE student
at public research institutions by state, 2006
(Source: The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability)

The key figures to look at are the ones in black at the end of each bar. See Montana? Students in our proud state contribute 74% of the cost of being educated at our public research universities. That means state appropriations covered a measly 26% of the cost.

Now take a look at some of our neighboring states. Idaho? State appropriations cover 61%. Wyoming? State appropriations cover 73%. Alaska contributes the most, tossing in 76%. Even some of the states in the south like West Virginia (58%), Mississippi (49%), and Alabama (53%) contribute more. Much more.

These figures (from 2006, the latest available) put Montana in the bottom five. Why is that? As a matter of public policy, do we really want our best and brightest paying one of the highest proportions of the cost of their college education? Do we really want them saddled with debt for the prime earning years of their lives?

Consider, then, that the overall average cost of education and related expenses per student in Montana is $8,916 is the lowest in the country. You would have to conclude we are the most efficient university system in the country!

Or, that we are a bunch of cheapskates. Is this what we aspire to?