“Washington Eyes Raising State Tuition of Foreigners”


This headline  in a recent New York Times article caught my attention.  Washington state ranks 11th in international enrollment, according the 2012 Open Doors report, with 20,198 foreign students, an increase of 13.4% over the previous year.  Vietnam ranks 3rd with 8.2% of total enrollment at WA colleges and universities.  (In case you’re counting, that’s over 10% of all Vietnamese students in the US in 2011/12.) 

The total economic impact is a cool half a billion dollars ($533.8 million).  But that’s not enough in these fiscally challenged times.  Some WA state legislators want to increase that amount by adding a 20% tuition surcharge for international students that they claim would generate an additional $60 million over the next two years. 

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

study washington logo
Links to the Study Washington website.

So let me get this straight.  This proposed surcharge would generate $30 million a year when the economic impact is already over $500 million.  As we all know, the competition for international students is fierce, which means international students have other less expensive choices in the top ten host states, not to mention 40 other states.  (One exception is the high school completion program, which is unique to WA.)  A University of WA spokesman stated the obvious when he said “We think it would price international students out of our market because they have lots of choices about where to go.”  Here are some comments from other WA higher ed colleagues: 

  • While the State would receive additional funds from the proposed tuition surcharge, individual schools would receive less tuition revenue due to the lower enrollment.  And in these already tough budget times, that is not a popular or desirable outcome. 
  • I’ve heard that the college presidents as well of all of us involved are of course opposed to this idea as well as any idea that puts any more financial burden on students.  We also don’t want to kill our place in the market, which surely this would do.
  • Colossally bad idea for so many reasons.

University of Washington:  Blowing with the Wind

UW logoLike other public institutions of higher education in the US, the cost of tuition has been shifted from the state (i.e., tax dollars) to students.  For example, in 1990 WA state funding was 17k per student – the state paid 82% and the student 18%.  In 2013, funding per student will be about 16.8k – the state will pay 29% and the student 71%.   

Annual Student Budget for International Students
For Students Entering the UW: Summer Qtr.
(12 months)
Autumn Qtr.
(9 months)
Full-time Tuition & Fees $39,209 $29,938
Health Insurance (required) $2,472 $2,472
Room & Board on Campus $13,292 $9,969
Books & Supplies $1,380 $1,035
Transportation (local) $552 $414
Clothing, Entertainment, Personal Items $3,020 $2,265
Total $59,925 $46,093

UW’s total cost already places in solidly in the ranks of many of the nation’s private colleges and universities.  A 20% surcharge would only exacerbate this problem.  If this proposal becomes a reality, it will be an object lesson in shooting oneself in the foot. 


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