In Our View: Empty Nests Postponed

WSUV, Clark College offer solutions for soaring tuition

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Attention, older teenagers and young adults who are eager to leave home: For $11,804 a year, would you be willing to put up with your parents a little longer?Attention, parents who for years have longed for the day your kids would fly away and leave you with that blissfully peaceful empty nest: For $11,804 a year, would you be willing to tolerate your pesky kids a little longer?

Ah, yes, big bucks can heal the most fractured family, right? As Anna Marum reported in Tuesday's Columbian, enrollment at Washington State University Vancouver is increasing more rapidly than at the system's main campus in Pullman, and the reason could be saving money to offset soaring tuition. The traditional college lifestyle — ivy-covered walls on distant campuses, stately classrooms and rollicking times in dormitories and fraternity/sorority houses — is undergoing a remarkable transformation for many students and parents.

WSU Vancouver enrollment has increased by 23 percent in five years, while at the Pullman campus the growth is less than half: 9.5 percent. There's ample reason to believe cost savings are a huge factor. Tuition at the state's top universities has skyrocketed by almost 50 percent in less than four years, and is projected to hit $20,000 per year for in-state students by 2020.

Meanwhile, as Marum's story explained, housing, meals and fees in Pullman typically run about $11,804 a year. Suddenly, hanging around the old homestead for a few more years — and putting up with parents who can be so meddling and annoying — becomes altogether doable. And for parents, postponing that cherished empty nest becomes an economic necessity.

WSUV is not the only local school that's seeing a rise in enrollment despite an increase in tuition. Clark College, which offers tuition less than half of WSU's, has shown a 27.5 percent increase in enrollment in those same five years.

Here's another influential factor in this issue: It's easier to find a job here than in Pullman. That means a lot as students are forced to pay a larger share of college expenses. A recent survey showed that more than three-fourths of WSUV students work either part- or full-time.

In addition to the unfolding sociological transformation of higher education, side lessons are learned:

• Many years ago, the need for a four-year university in Southwest Washington was severe, and WSUV was presented as a logical way to increase access to higher education. All of that thinking remains accurate today. But now we have a second force in play. During the nation's worst economic disaster in seven decades, living at home while attending college (and working locally) helps students deal with spiraling tuition rates.

• The value of both WSUV and Clark College to our community has never been higher. With the former, that value has been bolstered with new programs such as a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and a doctorate in nursing practice. With the latter, the value is bolstered with new job training opportunities and promising pathways to second careers during the lingering economic slump.

Make no mistake, the local economy remains as gloomy as the nation's. But more and more it's being shown that the learning aspirations of students (supported by their parents) are as powerful as ever.

And maybe's there's this surprising bonus for a few folks young and not-so-young: Putting up with each other might not be so tough after all.