There is contradictory news out recently on how Americans feel about supporting colleges and universities. On the one hand, newly released data from Grapevine, the Illinois State University center tracking state governmental higher education support, shows that for fiscal year 2020, appropriations have risen 5% over the previous year. The 2020 appropriations nationally of $96.64 billion is a healthy 18.8 % above five years earlier. While about half of that growth reflects inflation, real spending per student is rising, especially since enrollments themselves are actually declining slightly. In the current fiscal year, state subsidies are expected to rise in all but three states, Alaska, Hawaii, and New York (which projects only a very small drop of 0.3%). Some relatively large states (e.g., New Jersey, Tennessee) project increases of state support in the 10% range.
Although this is good news for state schools, the rate of increase in appropriations is not particularly large considering the nation is in an extraordinary 11th year of economic expansion, with extremely low unemployment rates and a booming stock market. For many states, the recent increases are merely getting real spending back to levels prevailing before the 2008 financial crisis.
Moreover, a couple of new Gallup polls provide some distinctly bad news if one accepts the proposition that in a democracy robust government funding is only possible with lots of public support.