Seattle Times Editorial: Needed UW tuition hikes a failure of lawmakers

A 20 percent jump in tuition at the University of Washington is necessary to help a treasured state institution maintain educational quality and access for state students.

The UW had no alternative but to turn to tuition for revenue after repeated failues by the state Legislature to come up with adequate funding. The school went beyond a 16 percent increase assumed in the state’s 2011-13 operating budget. Now it has the money: spend it wisely and transparently.

Annual tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates will rise from $8,700 to $10, 574 this fall, a record spike that undoubtedly will cause pain for some parents and students. But the UW remains an educational bargain. Its pledge to spend more on financial aid helps remove the cost sting for low- and middle-income students.

This would be a good time to press for cost-saving changes including differential tuition and flexibility in the state’s contracting-out rules.

In the past three years, the UW’s share of state dollars fell by 50 percent. The school responded to an ailing economy by pruning programs and charging more. The UW now relies on tuition for more than two-thirds of its instructional budget.

Washington’s other baccalaureate institutions face the same challenges. State lawmakers realized they couldn’t starve the schools and restrict tuition increases, hence legislative authority this past session allowing them to set tuition rates.

Neglect of one of our state’s largest economic engines is foolish. The UW generates billions in our economy each year — $9 billion for 2009. For every $1 invested by the state, spending by the UW fuels $1.48 in tax revenue.

There is also an intellectual power that helps fuel the economy. Of the 12,000 students who earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degress from UW each year, 74 percent stay here, working and investing in our communities.

High tuition is not a sustainable business model. The onus moves to the governor and state lawmakers to begin developing a rational budget for higher education.

Friday, July 1, 2011