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Editorial | Tuition outpacing the ability to pay | Kevin Hanson

“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car, but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.”

– Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Our 32nd president was right on the money with his unique observation about the power that accompanies higher education.

But for those who, like FDR, cling to the belief that our nation’s good health is tied to an informed, educated populace, these are trying times indeed.

Simply put, the reality of college tuition is making a bachelor’s degree a dicey proposal, indeed. Other associated events conspire to take a bit of the luster off the rewards that come with a four-year degree (four years, really?)

Washington’s legislature hasn’t just whittled away at higher education funding, it has taken a Paul Bunyanesque approach, chopping away with a vengeance. No one claims lawmakers have an easy job, with a rocky economy wreaking havoc on statewide revenue flows, but legislative actions have produced a litany of troubles in the world of acedemia.

Nestled in the snug environs of the Palouse, Washington State University is boasting of an incoming freshman class that will be the largest in WSU history, more than 4,000 strong. That sounds impressive on the surface, but a university official recently reminded an alumni gathering that not all that glitters is gold. The large incoming class simply shows there are hundreds of students being admitted that wouldn’t have made the cut just a few short years ago.

They’re being admitted for the dollars they provide. At the University of Washington, out-of-state and international students are being wooed because they pour even more money into the coffers.

In WSU’s case, the larger-than-ever numbers serve to push the cumulative grade-point average of the incoming class downward.

Added to the mix is the fact professors have seen salaries stagnate in recent years. That means the cream of the crop has been skimmed off by other institutions.

The net results? More students, larger classes and a watered-down professorial pool.

So, how does that mesh with the price tag associated with a college education? To keep pace with this dismal news, tuition has skyrocketed. According to the WSU website, full-time students are payhing $9,886 for tuition this academic year. That’s up from $8,592 a year ago. Up from $7,600 two years ago and $5,720 during 2008-09.

Higher education is, for many, the springboard to personal growth and professional success. When society is flooded with young success stories, our future is brighter. Unfortunately, legislative decisions have, during recent years, put a damper on the collegiate dream.

Recent proclamations from Olympia give reason to believe our state legislature is returning to its commitment to higher education. For the good of us all, let’s hope the talk turns to action.

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