A riddle: My price is going up, even though my cost is the same – what am I?

If you answered “college in Washington state” you are, sadly, correct. Take a look at this example:

UW student vs state share

Click to enlarge.

In 1990-91, Washington state (light gray) covered 80% of the total cost (purple line) to educate a student at the University of Washington. Student tuition – about $3,267 in 2012 dollars – paid for about 20% (dark gray). But by 2011-12, state funding had been cut to just 43% of the total cost. Students are making up the difference with annual tuition of $12,383 this year – even though the average cost of education per student is essentially flat over the same period.

It’s the same story all across Washington state. Higher education budget cuts were more of a slow creep until about 2009. Since then, state legislators have cut general higher education funding by 33%. During that time, the University of Washington lost 50% of its funding, as did most other state colleges and universities.

higher-ed-budgetAs a direct result, in the four academic years between 2008-09 and 2012-13, tuition has increased by 73% for undergraduate students at the University of Washington:

college tuition and fees

Click to play with an interactive graph showing tuition increases at other state schools.

It seems likely that higher education will go under the budget ax – and tuition will go up again – for the 2013-14 school year. I wonder whether any of the following state lawmakers – each of whom received a very affordable degree at a public university in Washington, thanks to ample state funding for their education – will propose doing something different. Like say, closing a few special interest tax breaks and using the funds to make public colleges affordable again?

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