As costs rise at Washington’s public universities, students and families are “Losing by Degrees”

Seattle, WA – A new report issued by the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute says Washington State is falling behind in the effort to build a world class education system. Continued cuts in state funding and corresponding tuition hikes mean fewer, more expensive slots at Washington’s public universities and colleges; “sticker shock” is likely to drive down applications from low-income and minority students despite increased financial aid; and middle-income graduates are taking on more debt to pay for school.

With public funding for state higher education at a 30-year low, EOI’s report “Losing by Degrees” calls on state leaders to identify new sources of public revenue to increase public investment in higher education in order to build a more competitive economy, and warns of lost economic security and decreased business competitiveness if no action is taken. Key findings include:

  • Students and families are paying more than ever to attend public universities and colleges. The total cost (tuition, room, board, and expenses) of attending the University of Washington has grown from one-fourth to nearly a third of the median household income over the past 20 years – faster than both inflation and per capita income. Tuition is set to rise even faster over the next two years, as tuition at Washington’s research universities will increase by 30%, and at community colleges by 15%.
  • The number of available slots is decreasing, even as our population grows. Despite tuition increases, the state’s public research universities will be able to enroll about 2,000 fewer students in 2009-10 than in 2008-09, and comprehensive universities will have space for 2,362 fewer. Meanwhile, the number of seniors enrolled in Washington public high schools has increased in each of the past four years, meaning more young people will be competing for fewer slots in school.

“Sticker shock” will likely lower applications from low-income and minority students, despite higher financial aid packages. Legislators and education administrators claim that higher income families can afford price hikes, and that lower income students will receive increased financial aid, both from the state and from new federal policies. But the experience of other public universities using this “high-tuition/high-aid” financing model, including the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Miami-Ohio, and University of Vermont, indicates applications from low-income and minority students are likely to decline.

Posted in Educational Opportunity, Higher Education