Students at public universities in the US are returning to their campuses this month to find dramatically higher tuition costs and poorer service after budget cuts and increases in enrolment fees.
Universities in California have been worst hit, as a political vacuum and an enormous budget shortfall have forced a 30 per cent tuition-fee increase in the California State University system. Six of its 23 campuses will not accept students in spring because there is no funding to support them.
The University of Wisconsin imposed a 16 per cent increase in tuition and other fees, but that covers little more than half of what the state government stripped from its budget. The school also had to cut $100 million (£63 million) worth of services.
Entire departments have been shut down, 300 courses have been scrapped, 90 administrative employees have been laid off and 60 faculty positions have been frozen. Some of the remaining courses will have as many as 570 students.
At the University of Maryland, where tuition fees rose 21 per cent, library hours and services were reduced. The University of Colorado will shut some departments after current students graduate.
In all, public universities in ten states have increased their fees by more than 20 per cent; while, in 28 states, their costs have gone up by more than 10 per cent. Public universities educate 80 per cent of US university students.
The cost increases and belt-tightening coincide with the arrival of millions of baby boomers at the threshold of university education, swelled by Hispanic and Asian immigrant numbers.
While the government said the cutbacks might be temporary, staff are worried that the effects will be permanent. They said only the most popular courses would survive when administrators pare costs by eliminating classes based on their enrolment.
California alone expects a 26 per cent increase in the number of university-age students over the next decade, but its cash-strapped legislature is refusing to allow enrolment growth, forcing more students into open-admission community colleges, which are already struggling under the weight of 1.6 million students.
• Princeton has been named the best university in the US for the fourth year in a row by US News and World Report, but this year it tied with Harvard University.
The rankings are based on the universities' admissions-acceptance rate, retention rate, graduation rate, class size, student-to-faculty ratio, alumni giving, and a peer assessment score.