Week 3 of special session is coming to a close and there has been a lot of discussion about higher education funding. Since the recession, funding cuts to public colleges and universities have led to exorbitant increases in tuition nationwide.
According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington unfortunately ranks third for the largest average tuition increase in the nation. As you can see from the chart below, our state’s average tuition has skyrocketed nearly 60 percent – or about $4,000 – since 2008 (when adjusted for inflation).
These sharp tuition increases have resulted in longer-term trends of college costs shifting from the states to students as college becomes less affordable. One of the primary reasons is that the cost of higher education has grown significantly faster than the median income. Federal student aid and tax credits have also risen, but on average they have fallen short of covering tuition increases. All these factors combined have exacerbated the situation by making it less likely that students will seek a higher education or complete a degree.
Skilled, college-educated workers are critical to Washington’s competitive and growing economy, and college affordability is key to developing such a workforce. We have begun to take small steps towards restoring funding to our colleges and universities, but funding still remains 28.4 percent below pre-recession levels. The House and Senate Operating Budgets both propose investing in higher education, but they completely differ in how they will do so.
The House proposal would use state investments to stop further increases in tuition over the next two years while also expanding student financial aid through the State Need Grant. While the Senate’s version may appear to allocate more to higher education tuition, it does so at the expense of some of the most critical grants for low- and middle-income students. It proposes decreasing college costs by pegging tuition to a percent of the state’s average wage. For example, the average wage for fiscal year 2016 is projected to be $52,635. For the University of Washington, tuition for resident undergraduate students in that academic year would be set at $7,369, or 14 percent of the average wage. However, there’s a huge flaw in how the Senate would pay for the tuition decreases – it would do this, in part, by cutting financial aid. This proposal would benefit middle- to higher-income families, as it would trim costs at the most expensive schools. However, it would also make it difficult for many students who rely on financial aid.
House Higher Education Highlights
Tuition Freeze: We freeze tuition for the next two years to help middle-class families afford a college education. By freezing tuition and expanding financial aid resources, we are making college more accessible for students from low- and middle-income families.
State Need Grant: Today, 34,500 college students or applicants qualify for the State Need Grant but haven’t received it, simply because the grant is underfunded. We invest more in this program so more kids can attend college.
Opportunity Scholarships: This continues our public-private partnership to build the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and other high-demand, high-salary professions.