Our Voice: Tuition freeze good news; education cost still is high

Washington State University Board of Regents decided on Friday to hold tuition steady for the second year in a row. This is good news for students and for the rest of the state.

We can't afford for our kids to be uneducated. Education is expensive, but the alternative costs even more.

The past two years of tuition freeze breaks what had become an alarming trend in the rising cost of higher education, especially in Washington. For example, the five-year period between 2007-08 and 2012-13, tuition at WSU went up 81 percent, essentially pricing some would-be scholars out of the picture and putting a huge student-loan debt on thousands of others.

Part of this is because the economy went south in 2008 -- and took the state budget with it. The Legislature's defense was to cut funding to the state universities and the force schools to make up the difference by digging deeper into students' wallets.

In 2012, the state put tens of millions of dollars back in the funding pot, and WSU was able to enact a tuition freeze for the first time since 1986.

However, the problem is bigger than just the last five years. The rising cost of tuition is a national epidemic. Yes, college is expensive in Washington. But the whole country is seeing the same trend.

The cost of higher education during the past 30 years in the United States has outpaced the rise of inflation, health care, a new car, food or energy -- by more than double -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.

Nationwide the cost of education has risen 1,115 percent since 1980. Health care has only gone up 597 percent -- if you can say "only" and "597 percent" in the same sentence.

The WSU freeze is good news. But the bigger issue may be controlling the total cost of higher ed.

We can't help but wonder why education is so expensive in the first place -- around the country, but especially in Washington.

For comparison: Undergraduate in-state tuition for Oregon State University is $5,558 a year; University of Idaho charges $6,524; and WSU weighs in at $11,386.

It boggles the mind that Pullman and Moscow, Idaho, are less than 10 miles away from each other on a map, but worlds apart when it comes to tuition cost.

Yes, the tuition freeze is welcome news. But somehow we have to make education more affordable.

We must produce an educated citizenry. We have to matriculate students who can fill the wide-open job markets in Washington and beyond. We need people who can support their families, pay their taxes and contribute to their communities.