- The Alabama Commission on Higher Education is requesting $2 billion from lawmakers for the state's public colleges and universities in the 2022-23 fiscal year, which would amount to a 17.5% increase from the current fiscal year's budget.
- State officials said the funding would help Alabama raise salaries and benefits as institutions struggle to retain employees during the coronavirus pandemic. It would also address rising utility costs, upgrade infrastructure, and pay for high-cost programs such as resource-intensive offerings in science and technology fields.
- ACHE joins several state higher education authorities, including those in Kentucky and Louisiana, requesting additional funding for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
During recent budget hearings, college officials expressed the need for more funding to remain competitive in the labor market and to upgrade infrastructure during the health crisis. Infrastructure challenges include greater technology demands from increased online education, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.
ACHE in part based its budget request on higher revenue projections for the state's Education Trust Fund. It is expected to have roughly $1.2 billion more in revenue in the 2023 fiscal year than the year before.
Fund revenue is devoted to the state's public education, including scholarship programs and capital improvements at colleges. About one-quarter of the fund's total spending usually goes toward higher education.
The fund saw double-digit growth in fiscal 2021, partly because of federal coronavirus relief funding, the Alabama Daily News reported. The 2022-23 request is also based on larger state revenue projections from taxes and license and use fees, said Jim Hood, ACHE's deputy director of financial and information systems.
In a typical year, a budget increase request of 17.5% would be unusual, said Thomas Harnisch, vice president for government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
"But with the influx of federal aid, as well as a robust economy, I think you'll see other states make pretty expansive requests," he said.
Other states have already requested large funding increases for the upcoming budget cycle. The Louisiana Board of Regents, which coordinates the state's public higher ed, requested a budget increase of $220 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year. If granted, the hike would increase the state's higher ed budget by almost 20%, The Associated Press reported.
The request is meant to help Louisiana recover from the pandemic while helping the state reach its goal of 60% of working-age adults holding a postsecondary credential by the end of the decade. The request includes more than $70 million to raise employee pay and over $92 million to make college more affordable and bolster student success programs.
Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is proposing to increase funding in the state's two-year budget for its historically Black colleges by $297 million. While the majority of the funding would go toward operating costs and building construction at Virginia's two public HBCUs, two private HBCUs in the state would together receive $10 million in each of the two years for student scholarships.
But higher ed funding challenges persist. It's an open question what states will do when emergency federal aid dries up.
"How will these programs and investments be sustained?" Harnisch said.
And not all governors are planning to make investments in higher ed. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, released his proposed budget last week. It would increase funding for K-12 education but cut $100 million from state university budgets.
"It does come down to a matter of priorities," Harnisch said. "A challenge for the higher education community in the weeks and months ahead is making their case for funding amid myriad other demands."