Saturday, January 25, 2014

Show Me The Money

State Senator Michael Baumgartner recently sent out a newsletter in which he highlights a bill (SB 6043) he submitted to lower the cost of tuition at Washington state colleges.

When I went to WSU back in the 1990s, I was able to afford tuition and costs by working my way through school and not getting into debt.

Resident undergrad tuition was $1,953 back in 1990. With an average inflation rate of 2.53% from 1990 to 2014, that would come to $3,556 today. The 2013-14 tuition at WSU is $11,386. The price has risen dramatically not because the cost of education has risen, but because the state has provided less and less funding over the years (see page iv).

In the 1960s and 70s, the state paid more than 90 percent of instructional costs. From the 1980s to 2008, we steadily reduced the state’s share to an average of about 65 percent. But, with the most recent round of budget cuts, we have reached a nadir: the state now pays an average of 35 percent of instructional costs while students and families pay 65 percent.

Back to the senator's newsletter.

Here is how it would work: The most recent average wage for workers in the state of Washington was $51,500, so the maximum amount of tuition that a state college or university could charge would be roughly $5,200 per year. That gives every student in our state the opportunity to achieve the college dream at an affordable rate and – most importantly, without going into debt or charging it to taxpayers.

I'm all for making college more affordable. I'm not sure that basing tuition on the average state wage is the best approach, but it's a start. There's still some inequity there. For example, if you take King County out of the equation then the average drops to $42,648, bringing tuition down to about $4,300. Regardless, bringing down tuition costs is a great idea. How will we pay for it? Well, this is where his bill is lacking.

Under my Debt-Free Degree proposal (Senate Bill 6043), the state would have to come up with an additional $200 million each year, but I believe it’s both necessary and achievable without new tax increases. It’s about prioritization.

Basically he puts the onus on his fellow legislators to come up with the $200 million needed every year. He doesn't mention any specifics concerning prioritization, only that this can be done without new tax increases. Well, it has to come from somewhere and I hope he's working on it.

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