UW regents wise to call for funding reform

The Board of Regents made the declaration as it boosted tuition another 16 percent on Thursday.

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The University of Washington is raising tuition another 16 percent this fall, bringing the total tuition increase over the past four years to 60 percent.

This is unacceptable and unaffordable. These annual double-digit increases can't be sustained.

And while we believe this to be true, the outrage is not ours alone. The latest condemnation of higher education funding comes from the University of Washington's Board of Regents.

The board essentially denounced its own decision to boost tuition 16 percent on Thursday while declaring a need to change the state's funding structure to keep the cost of higher education affordable for families.

The 10-member board, chaired by Kristianne Blake, issued a declaration stating the erosion of state funding has "radically and unduly shifted the burden of financing the higher-education system to students, who increasingly accomplish this by incurring family and personal debt."

Blake and board member Craig Cole told The Seattle Times the board is concerned that any further erosion of state funds will cause a measurable decline in the school's quality.

The UW regents, like the regents and trustes at other state-run universities and colleges, have had no choice but to raise tuition as the Legislature dramatically reduced taxpayer subsidies for higher education. Even with the additional tuition revenue the UW has not been able to give its faculty a pay raise in the past four years.

Less than a decade ago 80 percent of the cost of an education at the UW was subsidized by the state. Today it is a mere 30 percent -- and shrinking.

Taxpayers have long subsidized higher education so that it is affordable to all who are qualified, not just the rich.

In the 1991-93 state budget, the Legislature allocated $1.4 billion for higher education. In the current two-year budget the total targeted for higher education is $980 million. That means a decade ago higher education represented 9 percent of the overall state budget. Today, it's a mere 3 percent of state spending.

The huge increase in tuition has caused personal stress and financial strain for middle-class families across the state. It's making college unaffordable for some and creating mountains of debt for others.

This can't continue without crippling higher education and, ultimately, the state's economy.

Lawmakers must establish a dedicated source for subsidizing higher education. The UW Board of Regents should be commended for forcefully calling out the Legislature on this critical matter.

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