Lower tuition is the best aid for state's higher-education students
Legislative cuts have forced the state's higher-education institutions into a high-tuition, high-financial-aid model, writes Times intern Alicia Halberg. But this is not the best approach. Lower tuition is the best aid for all students.
Special to The Times
THE University of Washington is a state institution, although that's getting hard to believe any more. In 1970 the state covered more than 70 percent of the costs associated with a student getting a bachelor's degree. In the '80s that slipped to just 50 percent.
Today the state pays for less than 30 percent of those costs, leaving students to pay for 70 percent of their state education.
The cost for a full quarter of tuition in my final quarter at the UW is $3,449 — that's 55 percent more than I paid in the first quarter of my freshman year in 2008. If I were to take a fifth year — as many of my peers are forced to do with required courses cut — my tuition would be 88 percent more than my freshman bill.
UW officials announced tuition would increase by 16 percent next year. Double digits, once again. That's on top of a 21 percent increase last year.
UW President Michael Young says 2011 state budget cuts assumed that the university would raise tuition by 16 percent for two years in a row. So even though the Legislature protected higher education from further cuts this last supplemental budget session, the institution still is grappling with the cuts from the overall 2011-13 budget.
Previous cuts left the institution in a difficult situation and gravitating to a high-tuition, high-financial-aid model. But this is not the best approach. Lower tuition is the best aid for all students.
President Young said accessibility was one of his top priorities when meeting recently with The Seattle Times editorial board. But the new model hinders accessibility. Many students will suffer from sticker shock once they see the hefty price tag of a degree and choose other schools, without knowing that the UW provides more financial aid or how much financial aid they might receive.
The high-tuition, high-aid model will have a disproportionately negative impact on prospective low-income, minority and middle-class students. At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, this model has resulted in a 10-percent decrease in enrollment from low-income students, stagnation in enrollment for minorities, and a decreasing number of first-generation college students.
Though increasing access to financial aid is great, some aid comes with strings attached. For students without grants and scholarships, that likely means student loans, which means more debt after graduation. Student loans are now the largest single source of student aid in the U.S.
Young also said he expects to have to continue increasing tuition but, he hopes, by only "single digits" in the coming years. The university needs to recover from the Legislature-inflicted budget, but placing the burden on the very students the institution tries to serve isn't the answer.
Students have done their part; volunteers from the student government's Office of Government Relations spent countless hours in Olympia talking to legislators to stave off more cuts. Some UW alumni formed a political-action committee, Graduate Washington, to create a cohesive and strong voice on the issue.
Students can't take it anymore. More tuition increases will have dire consequences on this state's production of an educated citizenry. Washington already relies on educated workers from elsewhere to fill its high-tech industry jobs because the state doesn't produce a workforce educated enough for its own economy.
Washington ranks 14th in the country in terms of residents with a college degree, but it ranks very low — 46th — in the proportion of state high-school graduates who go to college. That means we are importing those degrees from elsewhere, instead of producing them here in our own state. If Young is serious about maintaining accessibility for Washington residents, both the university and the state Legislature need to look at how the state can fill in the budget gap and increase funding to the university in the future. Tuition increases year after year should not be considered the norm.
The Legislature may have stopped the bleeding this year, but it's far from healing the wound.Alicia Halberg is a senior at the University of Washington and the spring editorial intern at The Seattle Times.