Sunday, June 8, 2014
If we’ve said it before (and we have) — and we will say it again — the rise in college tuition in Washington state is unsustainable. The state needs to select a funding source to provide adequate subsidies to the state-run universities and colleges.
But this is not a problem only in the state. It’s a national concern, and it’s drawn the interest of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The debt created by college costs is dragging down the nation’s economy. College debt is now at $1.2 trillion (and recently passed national credit card debt) and is putting everything from home ownership to retirement security out of reach for millions of Americans.
Tuition at four-year public colleges and universities in Washington state jumped by an average of 60.7 percent, or $4,085 in inflation-adjusted dollars, between fiscal 2008 and 2014, according to The Seattle Times. The numbers were included in a May report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Murray, in her opening statement at the Budget Committee hearing, said nearly one-third of young households now carry student debts that average out at $30,000 a student.
To this point, the government has tried to address the problems by making grants and low-interest loans to those with limited means.
It’s not working. The soaring debt numbers can’t be disputed.
A witness at the hearing, Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, told senators that grants and lowering borrowing costs do nothing to address the cause of double-digit tuition inflation.
Pell grants and other federal financial aid exacerbates the problem by providing fuel for price inflation, he said.
Vedder said that between 1939 and 1978, college tuition rose by an average of 1 percentage point above the inflation rate. Over the last four years, the advent of a huge infusion of federal tuition aid, the increase has averaged about 3.5 percent.
The grants and low-interest loans have made it easier to raise tuition, and thus collect a whole lot more money, because the government is going to pay whatever the increase is. And those who don’t get grants or low-interest loans have the credit to take out college loans.
If the higher tuition costs are being covered, colleges will keep raising them. But the overall amount of cash for the schools isn’t necessarily higher because legislatures continue to reduce taxpayer subsidies.
It seems it would be best if the Senate let the states handle this problem.
In Washington state, for example, taxpayers subsidized about 80 percent of the cost of an education at the University of Washington just 10 years ago. Today, the numbers have just about flipped, with only 30 percent of a UW education being subsidized by the state.
This has got to change. Publicly funded universities and colleges, owned and operated by the states, were established to make higher education available to more than just the wealthy.