In the best of all possible worlds, state taxpayers would invest lavishly in expanding access to quality higher education in Washington state. But this isn’t the best of all possible worlds, and with an $8 billion revenue shortfall looming, even modest tax increases aren’t going to spare our state college and university system from devastating cuts.
But there is a rational, well-tested policy solution that would help alleviate some of the immediate pain, enabling state colleges and universities to make do with less while providing more access to more students than currently possible. It is a policy currently in place at nearly every private college and university in the nation, and at public institutions in Texas, Ohio, Virginia and other states. And it is a policy that has been proposed by both liberal bloggers like me, and by Republican state legislators:
Dramatically raise tuition while shifting the bulk of state funding from the current flat, per-student subsidy to a means-tested, financial aid model.
Those students and families who can afford to pay the full cost of tuition, will. Those who cannot, will have the higher costs offset through grants and loans, proportionate to their needs, as long as they maintain academic standing. The end result would be to increase tuition revenues without increasing the financial burden on students from low and middle income families.
Yes, this is a form of rationing, but we are already rationing higher education by reducing the number of available seats, increasing class sizes, and eliminating many academic options. In education as in everything else, you get what you pay for, and if we buy ourselves a second-rate higher education system our children will ultimately inherit a second-rate economy.
So in the midst of this unprecedented budget crisis, when steep cuts to higher education funding are all but inevitable, the time has come for legislators in both parties to brave the public’s understandable, but knee-jerk, revulsion to tuition increases, and move to a financial model that guarantees the greatest access to the best higher education system the state can afford to provide.
This isn’t the first time I’ve advocated for the high tuition/high financial aid model. In fact, I first hawked this proposal back in July of 2004, and at least four times since: here, here, here and here. So once again it is only fair to disclose that my own GET investment for my daughter (four years of tuition and fees purchased at 2002 prices) insulates us from rising tuition costs, regardless of means. In fact, dramatically higher tuition could prove a windfall should my daughter choose to go to a private or out of state school. Just thought you should know.