In FY 1977, U.S. state and local government institutions of higher education covered just 20.8% of their expenditures on education with tuition and fees. That figure peaked at 39.2% in FY 2011, and was 35.0% in FY 2017. On the other hand, fees and charges at auxiliary enterprises at public colleges and universities, including dormitories, food services, book stores, stadiums, camps and conferences, covered more than 100.0% of their costs more often then not up until FY 2004, interest on debts aside. Such enterprises still covered 92.1% of their costs in FY 2011, but covered just 77.0% of their costs in FY 2017. And that was before the coronavirus ended the presence of students in on-campus housing, and admission revenues at sporting events.
That is just one of the findings from a tabulation of state and local government finances from the 2017 Census of Governments, along with similar data for prior years. As noted in the prior post on elementary and secondary schools, local governments also operate community colleges in some states, including New York. For the most part, however, higher education is a state government function. While Medicaid, mostly paid to private sector health care providers, and elementary and secondary education, consisting of aid to local government schools, are a larger part of state budgets, public colleges and universities employ more actual state workers than any other government function. A table, charts and a further discussion about public higher education follow.