Many US universities are vastly increasing their tuition fees, threatening to make higher education too costly for huge numbers of Americans, according to an independent study.
A combination of greater enrolment and a decline in government support for public universities has brought about "the worst fiscal news for public higher education institutions and their students in at least a decade", according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in its report, College Affordability in Jeopardy .
The centre calculates that 16 of 50 states have increased tuition costs and fees by more than 10 per cent, and one by nearly 25 per cent. New York's governor has proposed increasing state tuition by 35 per cent, while 17 states have decreased financial aid available to students. Per capita income in the US during the same period rose by barely 2 per cent.
Patrick Callan, president of the centre, said: "Higher education enrolments are projected to grow each year in this decade, culminating in the largest high school graduating class in the nation's history in 2009.
"This is the first time in the modern era that a state economic downturn coincided with a time of projected enrolment increases. Even without a recession, many states would have had difficulty accommodating the increased college enrolments."
Declining tax revenues have forced state governments to cut all spending drastically - hence the fee increases. Public universities operated by the states enrol 80 per cent of all students.
"The states are responding to the budget crisis by passing major cuts on to colleges and universities, and colleges and universities are passing on the cost to students and families," said Mr Callan.
Students who are paying more are getting less. The University of Massachusetts raised tuition by nearly 25 per cent, the highest increase.
It also cut admissions and eliminated 100 faculty and 300 other employees.
A faculty pay raise was postponed, seven sports teams eliminated and library spending slashed.
"I don't think the nation has faced this before: heavy budget cuts combined with enrolment growth. It's a real double whammy," said Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University System.
The report adds: "This year, the picture looks even bleaker, with states continuing to cut higher education appropriations and campuses responding by raising tuition even higher."