Office of External Affairs

October 19, 2018

From the VP – Tuition and State Funding Can’t Both Be Low, Can They?

Randy Hodgins

I was interested to see the story from KNKX radio in yesterday’s news clips that showed that the University of Washington has the lowest “net” price for families of any university in the state according to The Hechinger Report and Education Writers Association.  This study lets consumers see the sticker price and then the net price that students and families actually pay once all financial aid and scholarships are factored in.  This low net price is a testament both to our state legislature which has been relentlessly focused on keeping college tuition affordable since the end of the Great Recession and the thousands of generous UW donors who have contributed towards student scholarships during our current Be Boundless capital campaign.

While low tuition is a good deal for students and families, it remains also a huge part of the funding that keeps the UW and other four year institutional operating budgets afloat.  That’s why if a state is going to go the route of keeping tuition low, it’s critical that state funding make up the difference.  Most of the UW’s competitive peers around the nation who have low tuition for resident undergraduates enjoy relative high levels of state funding per student.

The funding crisis that the UW faces as we head into the 2019 state legislative session is that this situation is not the case for our university. In her annual address to the campus last Tuesday, President Cauce displayed a series of charts that show while the UW ranks near the bottom in terms of our tuition price, it also ranks third from the bottom of our 25 public peer group in state funding per student – about $5200 per student compared to $14,000 to $24,000 per student for the four universities who also rank low on tuition per student.

As the saying goes, “this is no way to run a railroad!”  It simply isn’t sustainable for a large flagship university to rank low in both state funding and tuition revenue per student.  Given the recent rapid rise in the cost of living in the Seattle metropolitan area, it’s also a recipe for long term disaster.  These are the stakes as we head into what some legislators have hopefully called “the year for higher education.”  We hope so too.