In Our View: Tuition Hikes Necessary Evil

But state nearing breaking point where costly higher ed will hinder economy

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Recently announced tuition hikes of 16 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State University must, for now, be viewed as a necessary evil.Given the economy of recent years, state universities -- along with all state-supported entities -- have been in the firing line generated by dire revenue shortcomings. Since 2008, lawmakers have slashed higher-education budgets by more than half, a painful-yet-necessary economic reality created in part by legal restraints that prevent cuts in other facets of the budget.

In the wake of that, the state’s two largest universities have announced large tuition hikes for the coming school year. Western Washington, Eastern Washington, Central Washington and The Evergreen State College also are raising tuition, although by lesser and varying amounts.

This is a reasonable response to the reality of the times. The state’s universities are faced with attempting to maintain quality and service levels in the face of dwindling resources, and tuition hikes are the most reasonable area in which to do so.

Unlike businesses that manufacture a product, something that can be traded for tangible goods, the business of education is an investment made by all citizens for the benefit of all citizens. The tangible reward comes through the production of an educated workforce that can strengthen businesses throughout the state. Educating intelligent, trained, dedicated workers is a powerful economic engine for a region, helping to attract and develop successful companies.

Universities throughout the nation are facing similar difficulties these days, and according to The Seattle Times, the University of Washington’s tuition remains lower than the flagship universities in many other states, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia.

But as we consider the long-term effects of incessantly increasing tuition, we must consider the long-term effects it will have on the state’s ability to remain competitive. Pricing college beyond the means of all but wealthy residents could diminish Washington’s standing in relation to other states.

Given the tuition hikes of recent years and the slashing of higher-education budgets, it is reasonable to worry that we are nearly at that point. Sooner or later -- we hope -- the economy will recover. The states that are best prepared for that recovery are the ones that will benefit most from it, and a commitment to education will be an important part of that preparation.

Lawmakers apparently are cognizant of that fact. In their recent supplemental budget, they managed to avoid further cuts to higher education. Similar restraint should be a priority as budgets are formulated for upcoming years.

Much has been made recently of how some recent college graduates are hampered by stifling debt from student loans. With wages dropping and unemployment remaining high, graduates are finding it difficult to repay the money they borrowed to get through college.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced legislation that would provide information on specific courses of study at colleges, determining the odds of a graduate finding a job and the typical salary of that job. While philosophy majors might not rather know the realities of such information, it would seem to be useful knowledge.

In the meantime, we encourage the Legislature to continue to make a strong investment in the state’s colleges and avoid placing further burdens on students and their families. It requires a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that will pay dividends in the future.