The cost of higher education in WA hasn’t increased much, but the price has gone up — here’s why

September 3, 2015 | Aaron Keating

Adjusted for inflation, the total cost of higher education hasn’t changed much since the mid-1990’s. But the state’s share of that cost has dropped like a stone. Tuition and fees have increased to make up for state funding cuts — putting college out of reach for thousands of Washington’s high school graduates.

For example, at the University of Washington, the total cost per student was $18,100 in 1992-93.* The state, via its budget allocations, paid 79% of that cost; students, via tuition and fees, paid 21%. As of 2015-16, the total cost is steady at $18,057 — but the percentages have flipped: the state is paying just 34%, and students 66%:

UW state vs student

Click for interactive graph.

It’s the same story at Washington State University. Of the $19,057 total cost in 1992-93*, the state paid 80%, and students 20%. Fast-forward to 2015-16 — of the $19,531 total cost, the state now pays 39% and students, 61%:

WSU state vs student

Click for interactive graph.

At the state’s comprehensive colleges — Central, Eastern, Western and Evergreen — the cost per student has increased from an average of $11,581 in 1992-93 to $13,310 in 2015-16.* (That’s a 14.9% increase over 23 years, less than 1%/year.) But the state’s portion dropped from 75% to 37%, and the student’s portion increased from 37% to 63%, respectively:

Comps state vs student

Click for interactive graph.


At Washington’s community and technical colleges, cost per student increased 24% (just over 1%/year) during the same time period from $7,160 to $8,884.* Meanwhile the state’s contribution sank from 76% to 57% of the total, and the student’s portion rose from 24% to 43%:

CTC state vs student

Click for interactive graph.

If Washington’s leaders – and voters – are serious about putting educational opportunity within reach of every high school graduate who wants to go to college, we need comprehensive tax reform to bring in new state revenue and drive tuition/fees back down to reasonable levels.

*Historical tuition/fee figures are inflation-adjusted to their 2014 equivalent.

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Posted in An Inclusive Economy, Educational Opportunity, Higher Education, Progressive Tax Reform


  1. Jeanne Large says:

    Thank you for sending out this message. I’m pleased to see it but I’m frustrated that data as obvious as this isn’t known and discussed by all. I was able to work my way through college and get a four-year degree with no debt. The reason?: My parents and others of their generation paid taxes that paid for quality education at all levels. Why have we decided to shift the cost of post secondary education on students instead of the general public? And, why don’t we have vocational education available to those who don’t want to go to college? And, why don’t we have educational and vocational programs in prisons so that our fellow citizens who get incarcerated will come out with prospects for a job?

    I’m in favor of an income tax, a reduction in the sales tax and an end to the B&O tax. I went to the tax study commission meetings in 2002 and their recommendations seemed rational and reasonable. When will the results of that study be discussed openly?

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