Tuition costs up, but still lower than other states

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Monday, August 29, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Here’s the dark cloud: The price of admission into all of the state’s four-year universities and two-year community and technical colleges is rising faster than inflation.

A lot faster.

Double digit hikes were needed at each public institution this year to offset the loss of funding from the state budget.

As a result a freshman from Snohomish County will pay about 60 percent more this fall for tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Washington in Seattle, compared to what first-year Dawgs paid four years ago. It’s $10,223 this September versus $6,280 in September 2007.

And a full-time student at Everett Community College faces a $3,771 tab for the coming school year which is $990 higher than in the fall of 2007.

Here’s the silver lining: The cost of college is going up everywhere in America and the sticker price on Washington’s public colleges still beats many comparable universities around the country.

Consider Western Washington University. It’s tuition plus fees price of $7,048 for state residents is around $1,000 less than what Virginians pay to attend one of the state’s esteemed institutions, James Madison University.

And it is several hundred dollars cheaper than what Maryland residents shell out to enroll at Towson University.

However, three California schools — Chico State University, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — all charge state residents less to get in than does WWU.

On balance, Western Washington is priced lower than many peer institutions, according to a report its leaders delivered to lawmakers earlier this month. Similar studies show the same can be said of the University of Washington and Washington State University when compared to their out-of-state peers.

Beyond money, what about the quality of the educational experience?

In Washington and elsewhere, state support as a share of public college and university budgets is tumbling, bringing layoffs, larger classes and fewer courses.

The unsettling trend appears to be a factor in why students are flocking to get into private universities in spite of their much higher prices.

At Gonzaga University in Spokane, for example, 6,846 people applied to get in this fall – nearly 1,100 more than did in 2007.

Their admissions folks attribute it to a big batch of high school graduates on the West Coast, greater difficulty getting into California colleges and the ease of applying online to Gonzaga.

The plight of public universities is on applicants’ minds, too.

“Many more students are finding private institutions like Gonzaga to be a better value, in part because the privates have faced less intense disruption in the short-term,” said academic vice president Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen.

She notes for the longer term at Gonzaga and other private institutions “whether the quality of education provided gets even better depends on multiple factors, with revenue, one dimension of rising costs, being only a piece of the picture.”

Ditto for public universities, too.

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