State House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom (R-Medina) both got to where they are today thanks in part to a University of Washington undergraduate education. Chopp graduated in 1975, Tom in 1985.
Their educations were clearly excellent, but they were also surprisingly affordable. Back when Chopp entered the UW, tuition and fees totaled only $495 for the entire academic year. A decade later, Tom paid just $1,059 for his freshman year. But adjusted for inflation, Chopp and Tom paid roughly the same tuition rate: $2,704 and $2,507 respectively in constant 2012 dollars. (That's right: Adjusted for inflation, Tom actually paid slightly less than Chopp.)
By comparison, the UW's 2012-2013 freshman class is paying $12,383—almost five times the cost of what Chopp and Tom paid for their freshman years. Again, adjusted for inflation.
"It's still a heck of a value," Tom said in October. Yeah, to somebody who lives in a Medina mansion, maybe.
More than anything, this is what pisses me off about the attitude of state lawmakers towards higher education. There seems to be a total lack of embarrassment or shame over the fact that they are denying current and future generations the same affordable access to the middle class and beyond that previous generations afforded them.
The irony is, thanks in part to our once-affordable university system, we are a much wealthier state now than in the 1970s and 1980s when Chopp and Tom went to college largely on the taxpayer dime. It's not that we can't afford to offer current students the same opportunities, it's that we won't. And future generations will suffer from our selfish refusal to invest in the future for all the same reasons our current class of leaders benefit from the generosity and forethought of generations past.