Regional public universities in the Great Lakes region face growing financial threats due to the coronavirus pandemic, steadily declining enrollments, slow tuition growth and cuts to state higher education funding, a new report shows.

The report, by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, emphasizes the importance of regional public universities in the Great Lakes region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It says they are especially important to small communities.

Counties with a four-year public university have a per-capita income that is $1,200 higher than those without a university, the report states. Similarly, small communities with a public four-year university experienced less employment loss during the Great Recession than those without.

Enrollment at such universities has declined since 2011 by about 10 percent, while enrollment at flagship research universities in the region has increased by 1.4 percent.

Almost two-thirds of all students, 62 percent, who are enrolled at a public, four-year university in the Great Lakes region are enrolled at a regional public university. The same is true for 71 percent of black students, 59 percent of Latino or Hispanic students and nearly 75 percent of Native American students.

Public higher education “is likely to face unprecedented fiscal headwinds in the coming months,” the report states. Between 2011 and 2016, regional public universities experienced no per-student revenue growth after adjusting for inflation, and since 2017, per-student revenue has increased by 4 percent. Likely incoming cuts to higher education funding will torpedo this growth.

“This provides a policy imperative not only to rectify the funding situation that these schools face, but also to make further, more robust investments in regional public universities,” the report states.

Inside Higher Ed