As had been widely expected, the University of Washington Board of Regents approved a 20 percent resident undergraduate tuition hike this morning, from $8,701 to $10,574, the largest increase in tuition and fees ever. Following two consecutive years of 14 percent increases, the in-state cost of an undergraduate education will have increased by 55 percent over three years.
Over that same period, the state legislature has cut funding for higher education by more than 50 percent. Hmm. I wonder if there's a connection?
ASUW Government Relations Director Andrew Lewis decries the move as "another step in the direction of privatization." Lewis complains that there wasn't enough transparency in the process, there wasn't enough public input, and there wasn't enough thoughtfulness put into the final decision. According to Lewis, only three of the ten regents were actually physically present at today's meeting, with the remaining seven joining by conference call. "They literally phoned it in," says Lewis.
Amongst other things Lewis would like to see more public discussion about administrative costs, calling it "the huge bloated elephant in the room." But Lewis acknowledges that given the financial constraints, the regents' options were limited. "The state is the adversary," says Lewis. "This is the state abdicating its responsibility."
The good news, we're told, is that the UW is still a couple hundred dollars cheaper than elitist WSU, and remains a relative bargain compared to public universities in some other states. But that's little consolation to middle class families who are seeing tuition cost rise dramatically faster than financial aid. And despite an increase in financial aid money in the recently passed budget, the state is still falling far short of need, with as many as 22,000 eligible students not receiving a state need grant.
To this end the UW is increasing Husky Grant funding in order to try to make up the difference, with 50 percent of the tuition revenue increase being dedicated to financial aid, 15.6 percent of all tuition revenue. That should help the universities low income students cover much of the rising costs. But unless and until the state starts covering a bigger part of the financial aid side of the "High-Tuition/High-Financial-Aid" funding model we're moving towards, it's students from middle class families who will ultimately be priced out of our state's public colleges and universities.