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Days Long Gone When Summer Jobs Could Pay for College in WA

Tuition at Washington state's four-year universities is more than three times higher than it was five decades ago. (Africa Studio/Adobe Stock)
Tuition at Washington state's four-year universities is more than three times higher than it was five decades ago. (Africa Studio/Adobe Stock)
September 11, 2019

SEATTLE - College students heading back to Washington classrooms continue to face a challenge their parents likely did not: high tuition costs. Although costs have dipped slightly since 2012, they're still far higher than in 1965.

Aaron Keating, managing director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, said a summer job is no longer enough to pay for college. When tuition reached its peak for Baby Boomers in 1972, it would have taken seven to nine weeks of minimum-wage work to pay for a year's tuition at a four-year university. In 2012, it would have taken 30 weeks. Keating said millennial college graduates are swimming in debt.

"The kinds of debt that students and families often end up taking on can really be hobbling for them long, long into the future," he said. "We don't make families pay tuition for K-12 schools, and I don't think we should be putting such a high price tag on a college degree, either. We're not doing our state or our families a favor."

Tuition is 3.6 times higher at the University of Washington and about 1.7 times higher at community and technical colleges today than it was in 1965, according to the Economic Opportunity Institute.

Keating noted that college debt takes a lot of options off the table. Studies show millennials are delaying home ownership, marriage and childbirth because of debt. To lower costs, he said, he thinks the state should revamp what's been called the "most regressive" tax structure in the country - with the lowest 20% of workers paying nearly 18% of their income in taxes, and the top 1% paying about 3% of their income.

"Various legislators and advocates have brought forth a lot of different proposals to reform the state's tax structure over the past few years," he said. "So, I would encourage them to look at any of those to find a dedicated source of funding for higher education."

He added that Washington has been following a model in which colleges charge higher tuition, but the state offers more financial assistance to low-income students. He said this largely leaves middle-class families without the aid necessary to make college affordable.

The EOI analysis is online at opportunityinstitute.org.

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA