Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

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

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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