Local View: Tuition burden for students steadily grows

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As we await the conclusion of the special session of the Washington Legislature and anticipate the compromise budget that will be the result, one thing is clear: There will be more cuts to higher education. Furthermore, students will continue to be asked to help offset those cuts by paying more tuition.

Higher education is taking a beating. When Washington State University Vancouver’s 2011/2012 academic year begins in August, WSU will have sustained more than a 50 percent cut in state funding over the last four years alone. The steep cuts to higher education are partially offset by two annual tuition increases of 14 percent, followed by two more proposed annual increases of between 11 percent and 16 percent each. Though staff and faculty are feeling the effects of the cuts, students are shouldering the brunt and student debt load is on the rise. In 1987, the state covered 80 percent of the cost of tuition to WSU. That figure is set to drop to 40 percent for the next biennium, and students will be paying almost $10,000 a year for tuition by 2013.

Higher education provides a personal benefit to the individual who earns the degree—generally those people earn more. But having a higher rate of degree holders in the community also provides public benefit including increased tax revenues, reduced incarceration, reduced cost of social service programs and higher employment rates. An educated work force also encourages the growth of family-wage employers in the community. Those businesses are looking to locate where they can more easily recruit.

When times are tough, we must work together to preserve those things that positively impact our community. Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, has done just that through the proposed public-private “Opportunity Scholarships” program, which would pair private money with state matching money to raise millions of dollars to benefit college students as soon as December.

Community support

Here in Southwest Washington, local businesses recognize the importance of higher education. Dick Hannah Dealerships recently made a $67,000 gift to the creative media and digital culture program at WSU Vancouver. The gift will pay tuition for 10 students to attend two summer sessions. Summer session is not paid for by financial aid.

As an example of community support for higher education, a Camas woman recently left a legacy gift to WSU Vancouver. Although the donor had no direct ties to WSU Vancouver, she valued higher education. A $1.3 million endowed scholarship will be established to help students who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend college.

WSU is actively working to be part of the solution. Last December, the university launched the public phase of a $1 billion campaign. WSU Vancouver is responsible for raising $20 million of the total goal and the number one priority is student scholarships. WSU Vancouver’s staff and faculty are very committed to helping students through scholarships as well. Participation in the annual Faculty & Staff Giving Campaign, which funds scholarship of all sorts, was 69 percent this year.

WSU Vancouver is also offering more financial aid to students. Along with mandated financial aid funding, Vancouver has contributed more than $650,000 in additional financial aid funding in the last two years to support students who demonstrated the greatest need.

How can you support higher education? Give to a scholarship. Employ a student. Offer an internship. And when times are better, remember higher education, and invest in our community’s future.

Lynn Valenter is interim chancellor at Washington State University Vancouver; Mark Stephan is chair of the WSUV Faculty Organization Executive Committee; Mason O’Lennick is president of Associated Students of WSUV.