Good news: Students and administrators call state’s tuition cuts a success!

The Spokesman-Review has some great news about the tuition cuts the Legislature put in place in 2015.

A year ago, Washington became the first state to substantially lower tuition since the recession. The Legislature poured nearly $160 million directly into the coffers of colleges and universities and capped how much they are allowed to charge students.

…The reductions take full effect this fall, and despite initial concerns about the new funding model, students and administrators say the policy has been a resounding success.

Lawmakers made up for the lost revenue, the S-R reports.

The state’s regional schools – Eastern, Central, Western and the Evergreen State College – now have lopped 20 percent from their 2014-15 rates.

That left schools with big holes in their budgets, and the Legislature, to the surprise of many observers, filled them.

“I don’t know that any other state did this,” [Joan] King, [WSU’s chief financial officer] said. “I just don’t think other states are ready to reinvest in higher ed.”

The S-R story reports on the benefit to students who had struggled with high tuition. It also foreshadows 2017 discussion of higher ed funding, including proposals for tuition-free community college, need grant increases, and earmarked taxes. All this discussion will take place against the backdrop of the state Supreme Court’s mandate for full funding of basic education.

For now, though, it’s encouraging to see reports of success ahead of the beginning of another academic year. 

One of our Achieve priorities is: “Expand access to postsecondary education that boosts career opportunity and supports economic growth.” The tuition cuts appear to have advanced that goal.

In our foundation report, we expanded on the importance of postsecondary education. After noting that in 2020, 70 percent of the state’s jobs will require education or training beyond high school, we wrote:

Higher education creates opportunities for individuals while simultaneously supporting future economic growth through research and commercialization of new technologies to help launch new companies and even whole new industries. Given these individual and societal benefits, Washington should expand access to higher education and encourage college completion for students from all backgrounds, with particular focus on creating additional capacity in program areas that can lead to career success for individuals and more economic growth for the state.

For individuals, the results are clear. Higher education pays off: In 2012, median annual earnings for a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree were nearly 60 percent higher than those of a worker with only a high school diploma.

Lawmakers will face serious budget challenges next year. One of them will be maintaining the state’s progress in expanding access to higher education. It’s working.