Tuition squeezing average families

Former Hornets, both the Enumclaw and White River variety, are packing their bags and preparing to leave the familial nest, ready to embark on a path of higher education that will – in theory – give them a valuable education and set them on a solid career path.

Some have already made the life-changing move. Students at Washington State University arrived in Pullman throughout last week and started class Monday. It’s a huge influx of new Cougars on campus, meaning two things: one, it’s a bit more crowded in metropolitan Pullman, both in the housing market and in the classroom; and two, there’s a greater flow of freshman money heading into the collegiate coffers.

It’s money that makes the world go ‘round, they say. And nowhere is that more important than in the hallowed halls of academia.

Taxpayers throughout the Evergreen State subsidize the cost of maintaining a campus and keeping professors in front of students in Seattle, Bellingham, Ellensburg, Cheney, Olympia and Pullman, as well as a host of community colleges and branch campus operations.

Parents of any college-bound student have to wonder why the subsidy is necessary, given tuition costs that already seemed astronomical and, this year, brought double-digit increases. Asking another 14 percent for the 2011-12 academic year pushed the total ever higher, further out of the reach of many working-class families.

One gets the sense there’s a serious mind-shift in the future.

No one should doubt the value of giving young people a solid education; as a society, we benefit from intelligent, informed young adults who will take the place of aging Baby Boomers. But the cost of higher education seemingly will be limited to either the wealthy, those who planned wisely from the day their offspring were born and those with the financial wherewithal to repay student loans decades into the future.

At the University of Washington, tuition costs hover in the $10,000 range, only slightly ahead of WSU. Sending a child to either institution brings an annual tab in excess of $20,000 when everything is factored in – housing, a shopping list of mandatory fees, transportation and the like. Not to mention a cupboard stocked with ramen noodles and a fridge with a steadily-dwindling supply of beer.

As everyone becomes more specialized in their work world, they become less adept at some of the things that keep the homefront humming. We see a screaming need for vocational workers who perform essential services and can do so without a college degree.

Of course, vocational classes seem to be slipping down the priority list at high schools everywhere – but that’s another story for another time.

In the end, the college experience remains hugely valuable to anyone able to put in the time and effort and pay the bills. But it’s one that will be made available to fewer and fewer students as the costs go up and up. As a society, we lose something in the process.

But worries for the future can be put off for the time being. The coming days are a time to celebrate.

For those headed to campus, or already grousing about classes at WSU, we salute you. Yours is a noble challenge, indeed.

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