This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
There are two explanations for last year’s 6 percent drop in community college enrollment.
One is worth a party. According to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, more Washingtonians are finding jobs and drifting away from school.
The other is disturbing. Marty Brown, executive director of the board, says that rising costs are likely scaring off would-be students.
That’s pretty much self-evident, given that tuition has risen by 12 percent each of the last two years. It now costs $4,000 a year to attend a community college – about what it cost to attend the University of Washington 10 years ago.
The Legislature has been busily dismantling Washington’s public colleges and universities since the Great Recession hit. As in past recessions, lawmakers have treated the higher education system as a piggy bank – something to break and raid to spare other state services. They’ve reduced appropriations to colleges by an estimated $1.4 billion since 2009.
Yes, higher education must suffer its share of cutbacks when money gets scarce. But few if any states have cannibalized their colleges the way Washington has; the Legislature has cut direct funding to its universities by as much as half, to its community colleges by roughly a quarter.
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