It will come as no surprise to many college students and their parents, but Washington’s public four-year colleges had the second-largest tuition hike of any state in the nation during the recession.
A new report puts the increase in perspective: In inflation-adjusted dollars, Washington raised tuition by $4,085 between 2008 and 2014, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Only one state, Arizona, hiked tuition by a higher amount. When adjusted for inflation, the increase amounts to a 60 percent jump in tuition.
Before the recession, Washington’s public four-year universities were a relative bargain. But when the recession hit, Washington lawmakers cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state support from public universities to balance the state budget. The four-year schools froze faculty salaries and laid off hundreds of people, but they also raised tuition by thousands of dollars to make up for the shortfall.
Lawmakers did restore about 15 percent of the lost funding in the 2013 legislative session, and then froze tuition for two years at all state colleges and universities, including community colleges. That tuition freeze will end when the 2014-15 academic year is over. And that makes Washington one of the few states in the nation where tuition can be said to have declined between 2013 and 2014, after inflation is factored in.
But the study also shows that between 2008 and 2014, Washington’s per-student spending on higher education was cut by 27.8 percent, when adjusted for inflation. Only 13 states have cut per-student spending by more than Washington.
The report also notes that state funding for higher education remains far below pre-recession levels in most states. In Washington, state funding for higher education is $2,498 less per-student than it was before the recession hit in 2008, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The result of all these cuts: According to this study, students are taking on more debt, and the tuition increases are likely deterring students from enrolling in college. That’s especially true for low-income students.
The Washington State Budget & Policy Center, which took a look at these numbers in a blog post last week, called for renewed investments in higher education in the coming legislative session.