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Report: Md. received fourth-largest amount of federal funds for higher ed

During a time when the burden of higher education funding is shifting, Maryland received the fourth-largest amount of federal revenue per student in 2013, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report released Thursday.

Federal funds accounted for $7,393 per full-time equivalent student enrolled in a public institution, while the state provided another $7,749.

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The level of investment in higher education by federal and state governments is more equal than at any time in the last two decades, said Phil Oliff, a manager with Pew Charitable Trust's fiscal federalism initiative.

The Pew report, "Federal and State Funding of Higher Education: A changing landscape," revealed that the federal government spent $75.6 billion on higher education funding, while states contributed $72.7 billion in 2013.

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Though the contributions are similar in size, they serve different purposes, Oliff said, with federal funds used mostly for research grants and student-specific financial aid, like Pell Grants, while state investments go primarily toward supporting their public institutions.

The numbers reflect a shift in the historical norm, the report states. From 1987 to 2012, states provided an average of 65 percent more support to higher education. But from 2000 to 2012, revenue from federal sources per full-time undergraduate student at a public institution grew by 32 percent while money from the state fell 37 percent, according to the report.

"It came from a jump in Pell Grants — a federal program — as a result of the weak economy," Oliff said, adding that during recessions, people often go back to school using federal aid to gain more marketable skills.

The hurting economy forced the states' funding patterns in the opposite direction, as the "need to balance budgets" resulted in a 21 percent drop in state appropriations for public institutions from 2008 to 2013.

Earlier this year, then-Gov. Martin O'Malley announced a $40.3 million cut to the University System of Maryland budget to help with the state's $400 million budget shortfall.

"State levels of funding fall with the economy," Oliff said. "When revenue is down, states respond by cutting higher education funding."

This state received $1,791 per student for Pell Grants, less than the national average of $2,078, according to information provided by Pew.

But Maryland also received among the highest amount of federal research grant money — $458 per capita — compared to the national average of $124. In this regard, Maryland trails only Washington, D.C., at $476.

"We've certainly been aware of the decline of state funding and this shows how lucky we are in Maryland for the support we've received," said university system spokesman Mike Lurie.

Oliff said policy makers at federal and state levels are discussing changes in higher education funding, and a report like this "provides important context for these kinds of debate in understanding who pays for what."

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