Tuition at Washington state's colleges and universities -- including Walla Walla Community College -- cannot continue to rise by double digits year after year as it has been doing. This troubling trend will make higher education unaffordable for too many students.
It was announced this month tuition will go up an average of 12 percent at the state's community colleges and 13 percent at WWCC. Annual tuition for a full-time student will be $4,000, up from $3,542.
WWCC President Steve VanAusdle and the local Board of Trustees have no control over tuition rates, but they can take some steps to mitigate the increase. VanAusdle and the Trustees wisely did just that.
A decision to decrease fees was made. There will be no new fees and a reduction of current fees. Fees include such things as the cost of graduation, identification cards and initial application. A 12 percent cut in the fees will be gradually implemented starting in the winter quarter.
"Fees we do, at this point in time, have some say," VanAusdle said. "This is one way we can reduce the cost of education for our students."
The decision to ease the burden on students is the wise call. A public education should be affordable so everyone, not just the rich, can go to college. This is why state-run colleges and universities are subsidized by taxpayers.
Trimming fees is also timely. It was reported in February the steady tuition increases have caused a decline in enrollment. Enrollment was down 3.3 percent at the end of the fall quarter compared to last year, while winter enrollment was down about 7 percent compared to last year. This follows a statewide trend. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges reported a 4 percent drop in enrollment early into the fall quarter statewide.
The current situation is not the fault of college and university officials around the state. The decision to increase tuition by over 10 percent a year was forced by the Legislature's decision to decrease funding -- public subsidy -- for higher education. Their choices were to increase tuition or decrease the quality and quantity of their class offerings.
But now the Legislature has to take action to put the brakes on the tuition hikes. Lawmakers must establish a minimum funding threshold for all state universities and colleges to ensure access to higher education.
Meanwhile, the folks at WWCC have it right. They are making every effort to ensure all who are qualified have the opportunity to attend college.