You have to look pretty long and hard to find something today that costs the same as it did twenty years ago.

One of the prevailing myths about college is that its cost has skyrocketed over the years. Whenever a middlebrow rag like Time or U.S. News & World Report turns its attention to higher ed, there is much hubbub about the runaway cost of college.

While this alarm may have some relevance to elite private universities, it generally doesn’t tell the truth about public universities and certainly isn’t true of Washington’s public universities. We spend about 14,000 bucks per student, same as we did in 1991.


What is true in Washington (and pretty much everywhere else) is that the price (tuition) of college for students and their families has been surging steadily upward. This is, of course, because public support for our public universities has been shrinking. While the whole state budget has been cut, public university budgets have been cut more. Ten years ago, Washington’s state universities received about 6.3% of the entire state budget. Today, that percentage has been reduced to 4.2%.

So twenty years later, with our universities still living on 1991 money, we’re left with two questions: twenty years from now, will we still have public universities and will regular people be able to afford them?