Soaring tuition costs may be the top concern of parents as they look to the day when their sons and daughters head off to college.
But college officials and state lawmakers alike say there is an even more pressing concern: The state’s six public four-year schools may not have enough slots to meet college enrollment demands in the years ahead.
Washington already is among the states with the fewest undergraduate slots at its public universities — measured as a percentage of the state population.
With sharp cuts in store for higher education in the next state budget, access to a bachelor’s degree is only going to get tougher.
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More students could pursue other options, including enrollment first in a two-year school, but those slots are filling fast, too.
Out-of-state schooling is an option for some, but tuition is inherently higher.
Another option is enrolling in one of the state’s many fine private universities and colleges. About 25 percent of the baccalaureate and graduate degrees earned each year in the state are awarded at private schools.
But for many, the public universities are the most cost effective and desirable higher education path to take.
Uncertain of just how deep the budgets cuts to higher education will be, admissions officials at state universities are already planning to enroll fewer in-state freshman students in the fall. They also plan to pare back course offerings, which will make it harder for some students to graduate in a timely manner.
State financial support for higher education won’t be spared cuts in the next biennial budget. But the cuts can’t be so deep that they force state-funded universities to hang up “no-vacancy” signs.