The recession and the giant hole in the state budget it has created may give the state’s public universities the opportunity they’ve been looking for – the ability to raise tuition without the Legislature’s approval.
Lawmakers have firmly held onto that power for years, against hard lobbying by university administrators. Lawmakers have rightly seen it as a way to keep tuition more affordable, particularly at the “elite” public institutions including the University of Washington.
But a proposal to allow universities to raise tuition on their own is gaining momentum, reports Nick Perry of the Seattle Times, largely because of the $2.6 billion state budget shortfall. The governor has urged “tuition flexibility,” and a UW-backed measured to allow tuition-setting authority is “gaining support of some key lawmakers.”
Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, who chairs the Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee, said he expects to file a bill this week that would give the state’s six universities the ability to set resident undergraduate tuition rates… A draft of Kilmer’s bill would limit undergraduate tuition increases to 14 percent in any given year and to a long-term annual average of 10 percent.
Recent tuition battles in other western states have reached new heights. In California, students occupied buildings and were hauled away in handcuffs after they were arrested protesting 32 percent hikes implemented to help patch hikes in that state’s budget. At the University of Oregon, tuition has climbed 15 percent in the past year.
At the same time, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday unveiled a major jobs program as a way to right the economic ship. Is there an irony in the fact that students are being driven from institutions of higher learning because of increasingly unaffordable tuitions, and the fact that the state must also create a jobs program? Just asking.
— Rita Hibbard
Thank you for pointing this out, Rita. I think it’s definitely ironic. Western Washington University’s President Bruce Shepard sent out an e-mail to the campus (but not to students) in December regarding budget cuts that stated, “We are currently modeling just how this will affect our Western students … but we can certainly say at this point that access to the premier education provided by Western will be further restricted to those with the means to pay full tuition,” according to the Bellingham Herald.
Western has already lost 30 percent of its state-funded operating budget and is compensating by raising tuition 14 percent over this school year and the next. It is also cutting large portions of financial aid and suspending its work study program.
On top of this, Bellingham has a high cost of living and almost no available jobs at any level, which means people who eventually graduate and want to stay in town cannot afford to. Students aren’t just being forced out of higher education institutions – they’re being forced out of the state. Who is going to fill those 40,000 jobs if students can’t even afford bachelor’s degrees?
Who is going to fill the 40,000 jobs? How about a fraction of the 9% of Washington residents who are unemployed?