OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington tuition rates are rising at such a rapid clip that the cost of attending a top university is projected to surpass $20,000 per year for in-state students before the end of this decade.
Those numbers, produced as part of an actuarial analysis for the state's prepaid tuition program, mean that higher education rates may quadruple from 2004 to 2019. Supporters of the university system hope that the state can begin restoring at least some of the cuts to blunt those rising costs.
"We've reached a tipping point," said Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle. "We cannot allow tuition to substantially increase in the disproportionate fashion that it has."
Students at the University of Washington are preparing to pay $11,782 in this coming academic year, along with some additional fees not included in the prepaid tuition calculations, up about 15 percent from the year prior. Tuition at the state's most expensive university is projected to grow another 12 percent the year after, 10 percent in the following two years, 8 percent in the next year, followed by consistent 5.5 percent increases thereafter.
By the 2019-20 school year, tuition would be $20,249, plus additional fees.
Margaret Shepherd, the director of state relations at the University of Washington, said universities can do some things to control expenses but that the greatest factor in rising tuition is the level of state support. Tuition comprised about 41 percent of the UW's education budget in 2008, and that is growing to 71 percent for the coming year.
Meanwhile, costs continue to rise, and there's an appetite to expand programs such as engineering and computer science.
Shepherd sees some hope. She believes that if state funding is flat or up in the next budget cycle that Washington can avoid another double-digit tuition increase, though she still expects a need to increase costs for students.
"While we would hope that the rate of tuition growth would slow substantially, it's most likely that there will be some tuition increase to restore services and reinvest," she said.
The state's actuarial analysis is also very conservative. It assumes that state support for education will actually drop a little further. The analysis also assumes that long-term inflationary growth, which has averaged about 4 percent per year over the past two decades, would be about 5.5 percent per year.
Higher education is also getting some promised support from the state's two gubernatorial candidates. Republican hopeful Rob McKenna wants to the state to cover half the cost of college education, compared to about 30 percent now. Democratic candidate Jay Inslee also wants to increase state funding for higher education.
Carlyle said the state has to explore the possibility of new revenues to help pay for higher education, though both candidates for governor have said no new taxes are needed.
The projections are key for prospective investors in Washington's prepaid tuition program, which allows parents to lock in tuition at a rate above current costs but below what they would expect when their kids reach college. Rising rates have pushed the cost of a year's worth of prepaid tuition to $16,300, way up from the $7,600 it cost a few years ago.
None of those numbers account for other major costs of attending university. The total cost of attending the University of Washington and Washington State University as an in-state undergraduate can actually be about $25,000 a year when factoring in the cost of books, transportation, living expenses and other student needs.