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Executive Summary
The Context: State Budgeting and Higher Education's Vulnerability
The Continuing Battle to Sustain Current Support for Higher Education
Recent Experience: The Recession of the Early 1990s
What's Different?
Unprecedented Enrollment Growth
The Tuition Conundrum
Student Support
Concluding Observation
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Concluding Observation

The current recession coincides with the third great wave of college enrollments. The first was the G.I.s after World War II; then their children, the baby boomers. The current cohort includes many who, like the G.I.s, will be the first in their family to seek college admission. This generation of students will be the most racially and ethnically heterogeneous--and the poorest--ever to seek higher education. And these students arrive at a time when postsecondary education and training are essential for full participation in the civic, economic, and social life of America--for, if you will, participation in middle-class life.

It will require extraordinary effort on the part of states and colleges and universities to meet the needs of these students, even if the economy avoids a major, prolonged recession. The public policy initiatives of the 1990s did not position the states to meet the demands of the coming decade. Some initiatives--merit aid for students of affluent families, tax credits that exclude low-income Americans--may come to be remembered as public policy's contribution to "irrational exuberance."

Nevertheless, the assets that states and their colleges and universities bring to this new era should not be underestimated. Unlike the 1960s, most of the capacity to accommodate the new enrollments already exists. The financial condition of public higher education is generally strong. Public confidence in the enterprise is high. Recession will test our nation's values and priorities. What will the states and the colleges choose to protect during a time of difficult choices? College has become the gateway to full participation in American life, and the stakes in maintaining and enhancing college opportunity have never been greater.


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