The sound of wailing stringed instruments jolts the Redmond tutoring center as children as young as age five pick up their first instrument and strum away at their lessons. This is where 22-year old full-time University of Washington student Seunghwa Lee works over 28 hours per week.
Lee is just one of numerous UW students who work full-time so they can afford to attend school. Attending UW in the 2012-2013 school year will have a price tag of $12,401. That is about $1,559 —or 16 percent more than the year before and that amount is projected to increase for the next several years.
Norman Arkans, executive director of media relations at UW, says that the tuition increase doesn’t affect students from economically challenged or disadvantaged backgrounds due to the Husky Promise, which promises roughly 25 percent of undergraduates zero tuition.
“The students we are concerned about are the middle class whose families make too much money to qualify for financial aid but don’t consider themselves wealthy,” says Arkans.
There are several contributing factors to the increasing tuition cost. The 16 percent increase was approved by the Board of Regents after the state legislature cut its budget for higher education.
To put this into perspective, 20 years ago the state paid 80 percent of the cost of educating students. Today, the state is only paying 30 percent and nearly 70 percent is burdened on students.
For students like Lee, who is double majoring in microbiology and violin, this means a series of compromises to afford not only her tuition but the cost of living, books and other student expenses.
A fourth year honors program student, Lee says she works at least part-time during her enrollment at UW. During the summer, she attends one class to make room for two jobs. Despite this, she says she won’t be able to afford to go to graduate school in the coming year. She instead plans to teach English in Korea until she has enough money.
While Lee grew up in Seattle and graduated from Franklin High School, her parents moved back to Korea. Without a family to depend on for finances, she lives in an apartment with two roommates in the University District and commutes by bus every day to her work in Redmond.
At work, Lee gives guitar lessons to children. Her boss, who runs the small private school in her home, is flexible with Lee’s schedules but her professors are less so.
“I notice a dip in my grades around the finals time and I know it’s because I spend so much time in my commute and at work,” said Lee.
At the same time UW’s tuition increases, the university campus is also undergoing a number of changes. The Husky Union Builiding scheduled a two-year project to renovate the building, billing each student an extra $100 to finance the remodel.
“The HUB renovation is student funded, built and maintained by student funds. Decisions about it are student made as voted by the governing body, or the students of Associated Students of University of Washington,” said Lee.
Concurrently the Husky Stadium is undergoing a $250 million renovation. It is funded entirely through private donors and game revenue. Additionally, two new residence halls—Elm Hall and Alder Hall are scheduled to open in the Fall of 2012 and are funded through residence hall fees. Neither project affects the cost of tuition for students.
“The UW is not catering to American students anymore,” said Lee. “They have an obvious preference for international students.” International students pay a tuition approximately four times that of in-state students.
Lee maintains that the money going toward the HUB could have been put to better use to help needy students.
Due to budget cuts in the beginning of 2009, 1000 jobs at the university had to be cut. This meant larger lecture and lab sections, especially for science courses. This year, said Arkans, the legislature didn’t cut anymore and said a “substantial amount of money from tuition is going to restoring these academic programs.”