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Cuts to Higher Education Dimming Future Prosperity

Posted by michaelm at Oct 08, 2012 06:45 PM |
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Higher education is the launching pad for economic growth and shared prosperity. Unfortunately over the past few years(during the height of the Great Recession), policymakers slashed state funding for colleges and universities. That means the share of costs were pushed onto students through significant tuition increases, which put higher education out of reach for many.

As highlighted in our latest policy brief, the benefits of higher education are significant - and growing. In 1990, a 25- to 34-year-old Washingtonian with a bachelor’s degree earned, on average, about $11,000 more than a young person with just a high school diploma.

Over the past 20 years, the number of young men with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree has remained relatively stable while the number of women with those degrees grew to nearly 28 percent in 2010, from just under 24 percent in 1990. The share of young women pursuing master’s degrees and PhDs has exploded by 160 over the same time period. 

While trends in educational attainment are positive, investments in higher education that would hold down tuition and make college more affordable for everyone have dwindled. Since 2009, policymakers have cut over $1.4 billion from higher education. As the graph below shows, state funding now covers just a third of the cost of a four-year college education, down from 70 percent in 2000. As a result, college tuition for students has risen 94 percent since 2009, effectively pricing many lower- and middle income families out of higher education.


Bolstering state investments in colleges and universities and stemming the rise of tuition will ensure wider access to students from lower- and moderate-income families, and give all young adults a better shot at reaching the middle class. To learn more about higher education and young adults, read our policy brief, “Maybe When You’re Older: Prosperity and Young Adults in Washington State.”

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