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A college education opens doors to better jobs, higher wages, and increased economic stability. Yet, rising tuition rates have diminished the prospect of attending college for many Washingtonians. Our state has experienced the 2nd steepest tuition increase in the nation since the recession hit, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008 and tax revenue dropped, Washington state lawmakers overwhelmingly relied on cuts to higher education and other important investments in order to balance the state budget. According to the new report, authored by former B &PC Analyst, Mike Mitchell, Washington state has cut funding for higher education by 27.8 percent since 2008 after adjusting for inflation. That’s equivalent to a decrease of $2,498 per student. To fill the funding void left by budget cuts, tuition and fees were allowed to rise by 60.7 percent or $4,085 for the typical student during this same time period. This is the 2nd largest tuition increase in the nation (see graph).
In the current budget cycle, policymakers put a freeze on further tuition increases and made some small investments. Yet even with these modest improvements, state funding still remains below 2008 levels, after adjusting for inflation.
When lawmakers reconvene to write the next two-year budget they will face the hefty task of investing at least an additional $2 billion to provide high quality education for students in K-12. This is a critical investment, but only one piece of the education pipeline. It’s not enough to just provide opportunities for kids through high school. Renewed investments in higher education will be needed to provide those graduating high school students a shot at a college education and a more prosperous future.
Policymakers can generate new resources to invest in higher education and other important public priorities by closing wasteful tax breaks, broadening the state sales tax to include modern goods and services, and adopting a new tax on profit from the sale of corporate stocks and other high-end financial assets.