This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Long ago, in a universe far away, the State of Washington had enough money to subsidize the education of students lingering in college long after their peers had moved on in life.
That day is gone, and lawmakers should make it official by passing Senate Bill 5868.
SB 5868 is straightforward: It would require so-called perpetual students in public colleges to bear 100 percent of the cost of their educational expenses.
This would apply to most undergraduate students who’ve accumulated more than 125 percent of the credits needed to graduate. It would not apply to dislocated workers being retrained for jobs, teachers continuing their educations or students who demonstrate that they haven’t been able to graduate for reasons beyond their control.
A university is a glorious place to pursue intellectual interests, explore career options and transition from adolescence to adulthood. That sometimes involves changing majors and following a less-than-direct route to a degree.
Hanging around campus too long, though, gets to be a selfish proposition. The state pays close to half the actual cost of educating a student at public institutions. Any money spent subsidizing long, meandering academic careers is money not spent providing openings for other students who may be getting shut out of the system entirely.
This is one of the most obvious and justified economies the state can make as it starves higher education yet more this year.
Washington’s public colleges are likely to suffer spectacularly in the next biennium; the current fiscal crisis has forced Gov. Chris Gregoire to propose a truly draconian 11 percent cut to high ed funding over the next two years, and even that may look good after the Legislature finishes writing its own budget and doing its own damage.
Also, the Legislature has been unable to fully fund the state’s need grants for students of lower income. As a result, more than 20,000 eligible students are already frozen out of the financial aid that could help them stay in school.
Against this backdrop, it’s hard to argue for continued subsidies for years-long searches for identity and struggles to resolve What to Do with My Life.
The college years are as good a time as any to learn that the world can be a hard and unforgiving place. Campuses can’t be long-term sanctuaries from adulthood. Knowing that the price of education will double five-or-so years down the road will likely focus the minds of some freshmen marvelously.