When the Legislature gave the state's universities and colleges permission to raise tuition, lawmakers insisted it wouldn't reduce access to education.
After all, they argued, more money would be available for need-based financial aid.
We didn't buy their rhetoric. It seemed obvious double-digit rate hikes in tuition -- something that has occurred the past two years -- would make college unaffordable for many students from middle-class families.
Washington state boosted its tuition at four-year schools 14 percent for the past two years. This year lawmakers approved a plan allowing the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University to raise tuition each year for seven years. Yearly tuition hikes would be capped at 14 percent, provided the average annual increase compounded over 15 years wouldn't be pushed above 9 percent. As a trade-off, the universities must agree to yearly performance agreements and continue to finance financial aid grants at the current rate.
But the current rate isn't good enough when the cost of college is rising at an accelerated rate.
Tacoma News Tribune reporter Debbie Cafazzo reported this week that more college students who qualify for state grants based on financial need are being denied those grants because of a huge increase in demand for limited dollars.
The State Need Grant is Washington state's largest financial aid program for needy students, according to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board. More than 15,000 students who qualified for the grants this year didn't get them, according to figures released last week by the HECB. That is triple the number from the previous academic year, Cafazzo wrote.
And it's going to get more difficult to obtain financial aid from here as tuition climbs and climbs.
"The problem isn't the state's commitment to its largest financial aid programs," said John Klacik, HECB's director of student financial assistance. "It's the burgeoning growth in the number of students who are qualified and ready to go to college but whose personal financial resources are inadequate to cover the cost."
The Legislature added about $18 million to assist students with State Need Grants in the next school year, Cafazzo reported, but HECB predicts demand will outstrip funding.
Yes, because skyrocketing tuition has created incredible demand for student aid. The lousy economic is also a factor.
Lawmakers have deluded themselves into believing there would be no adverse consequences to raising tuition 14 percent a year.
It's simply wrong to make a public education so exclusive only the wealthy can afford it.
Public, state-owned schools were established so all citizens, not just the wealthy, would have an opportunity to obtain a college education.
That opportunity is fading fast for many -- too many.