THE BUOYANCY of the United States economy is doing little to lift universities and colleges, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Higher education's share of government funding was stagnant this year and has declined compared to five years ago, it says.
Universities and colleges are competing for government money with primary education, welfare services and prisons, while still struggling to rebound from the setbacks suffered during the recession of the early 1990s.
Travis Reindl, policy analyst for the state colleges association, said: "Higher education is in the unique and somewhat unfortunate position of being one of the only fully discretionary items in state budgets."
This is unlike medical care for the elderly, programmes required by Congress or the courts and aid to public schools.
Universities and colleges got a 4.8 per cent increase in government appropriations this year, but the proportion of state budgets they received was unchanged. In five years higher education's share when adjusted for inflation was below 1980 levels.
"Higher education in the states has gained some increases in the past three or four years," Mr Reindl said. "But those have not compensated for, and probably never will compensate for the hits we took in the early 1990s."
A report last November showed that colleges and universities need $26 billion in maintenance alone. More part-time faculty are being hired, degree programmes with low enrolments dropped, and student fees increased or added.