I’ve been admittedly obsessed over the past couple weeks with making the argument for a high-earner’s income tax, but the other policy issue I’ve been advocating this session also appears to be gaining a little traction: a move toward a high tuition/high financial aid model that could raise additional funds for higher education, while increasing access and decreasing costs to students from lower and middle income families.
A few weeks ago Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36) staked his own credibility to the concept in a guest column in the Seattle Times, and just last week, the even the Times editorial board wrote in favor of raising tuition and financial aid. And today, coming on the heels of Gov. Gregoire’s proposal to let tuition rise 28% over two years, none other than University of Washington President Mark Emmert, writing in his own guest column in the Times, argues that if we are going to keep the “higher” in higher education, colleges and universities need more “flexibility on tuition.”
The leaders of our four-year colleges and universities understand that our schools must take cuts. But we also know that we can keep students coming to school and graduating on time if we are simply given more flexibility on tuition. We can help our students and our state without new state money. Moreover, we can fix much of this problem without denying access to students because of their income or family background.
The UW has the lowest tuition of any of its peers and is one of the best bargains in the country. With increased financial aid and the expanded federal tax credit, we can remain an excellent value for our families, maintain our world-class quality, and not slash the number of students we admit.
To give higher education the opportunity to resolve this crisis without requiring more state money is the only responsible thing to do. To do otherwise is to deny thousands of our citizens a chance to succeed in the knowledge economy.
Huh. Guess the idea doesn’t sound so wing-nutty after all, when it’s coming from the mouth of Emmert.
So how does it work? How can we possibly raise tuition while maintaining access and affordability to lower and middle income students? Well, as I’ve explained before, it’s simple math:
Let’s say you’re a low to middle income student currently receiving financial aid in the form of $3,000 in grants, and the UW suddenly jacks up its $6,800/year in tuition and fees to $17,800. Now let’s say the UW (ie, the state) increases your grant by another $11,000 to offset the hike. How much extra money did this cost the state? Zilch. You were paying $3,800/year and you’re still paying $3,800. It’s a zero sum game.
But if you’re a student from a wealthy family, who does not need financial aid, and thus does not qualify for it, you’re suddenly paying an extra $11,000 into the system… money that can be spent to increase the quality of education at the UW, or expand the number of seats, or even lower the costs for truly needy students.
The key of course is to increase financial aid commensurate to the needs of the students, both the dollar amount, and the upper range of incomes that qualify for aid. The goal should be to accept students based solely on merit, and to charge them for their education according to their ability to pay. That, in my opinion, is the best way to extend opportunity to all of our state’s young people.
Or, you know, we could continue with what we do now, where wealthy families who have easily afforded years of $23,420 annual tuition at Seattle’s exclusive Bush School, send their kids on to the UW at the same $6,800 bargain rate as everybody else, at the same time the university is being forced to slash classes and slots. Does that really make sense?