OLYMPIA -- While many students likely took advantage of Presidents' Day to catch up on homework or sleep, students from Washington State University Vancouver joined their peers from across the state to protest tuition increases and poor funding for public universities.
"This rally is all about getting noticed," said Daniel Nguyen, the president of the Associated Students of WSU Vancouver. "Over 50 percent of our graduates stay in Clark County. That helps the local economy and our state, and we need to make it affordable for our people to stay here."
Students from WSUV distributed pamphlets with information about perceived threats to higher education, including differential tuition increases, which would allow universities to increase tuition for high-demand, high-cost degrees. Generally these degrees are science, technology, engineering and math majors, known as STEM majors.
House Bill 1043 and its companion, Senate Bill 5548, would limit a university's ability to make differential tuition increases. The bill in the House passed, and the bill in the Senate has been referred to the Higher Education Committee.
Amber Clark, a part-time first-year student at WSUV, met with state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, to discuss her $9,500 debt.
"If tuition increases again, I'll probably have to drop out," said Clark.
Clark said Rivers was understanding, partly because her children used the Guaranteed Education Tuition program to help pay for school.
Program's funding could be cut
GET allows parents to buy credits that cover a portion of future tuition for the most expensive university in the state. Because of recent tuition hikes, GET is losing money for the state, and legislators have considered cutting the program's funding.
"Eleven percent of students at WSU Vancouver used GET to pay for school," said Emily Vis, a WSUV sophomore who owes $9,000.
About 300 people attended the Monday rally. WSU's Facebook page claimed 99 attendees, 21 of them from WSUV. WSU students planned to follow up on their demonstration by meeting with about 90 state lawmakers.
The rally featured testimonies by students from Bellevue Community College, The Evergreen State College and WSU, as well as by legislators. Many of the students demonstrating held up signs with the amount they owe.
Students from Evergreen dragged a large inflated ball and chain with the words "$1 Trillion" on it around the front of the Capitol.
The state pays for approximately 30 percent of a student's tuition. Previously, the state covered 50 percent.
Many at the rally acknowledged that it might be tough to get legislators to help post-secondary education when they're working to comply with a court mandate that they adequately fund K-12 schools.
"It's not going to be easy," said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. "Fully funding K-12 has to be a priority."
Frockt said he would be looking for ways to prevent tuition rates from increasing, he told students.