University tuition freeze proposed

School presidents offer to do so if state contributes $225M

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WSUV students hopeful of two-year tuition cap

WSU Vancouver students reacted with hope toward the idea of consistent tuition for the next two years. WSU's President Elson Floyd and presidents from five other state colleges are offering a compromise to the state Legislature that would allow the tuition freeze.

The six presidents say they will freeze tuition for the next two years if legislators are willing to bolster their budgets with $225 million. Currently, the state pays for approximately 30 percent of tuition, while students pay the remaining 70 percent.

WSU Vancouver's 2012-13 tuition is $11,386, up 16 percent from last year. The approximately $1,500 increase puts financial stress on students and parents alike.

Sophomore Jessie Spinny, a legislative affairs intern at WSU Vancouver, expressed doubt about the Legislature's desire to compromise with the schools.

"Well of course they should stop raising tuition," she said. "We should make higher education more accessible to people, lowering tuition would help with that. It would be smart and responsible for them to do so, but honestly I'm skeptical. It seems like higher education isn't a political concern."

Spinny is double majoring in sociology and social sciences with a criminal justice emphasis.

Fellow sophomore Emily Vis wants the Legislature to agree to the compromise.

"I think its a great opportunity," she said. "I know a lot of the hindrances for students deal with how much tuition costs. Finding the money will be tricky, but I think it is worth it."

Vis, a student government senator majoring in computer science, also emphasized the importance of funding math and science programs in universities.

In his blog, President Floyd writes: "Tuition increases at this level are unsustainable, and if continued will compromise access and affordability for Washington's students. It is imperative that we must continue to maintain the quality of a WSU education without pricing students out of the market." This message was posted May 21, 2012, two weeks after the Board of Regents voted for the tuition increase.

— LUCAS WISEMAN, The Columbian

SEATTLE — Washington's public university presidents are offering to compromise with the state Legislature over money for higher education. The six presidents say they will agree to freeze tuition for the next two years if the state infuses $225 million into their budgets.

The proposal comes two weeks after outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire's set a goal of no tuition increases in her proposed state budget. Her proposal included no additional money for the six public four-year schools.

That budget was "full of assumptions that are not likely to happen," state Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, told The Seattle Times.

"Do I think it will be difficult to find $225 million? Yes," Hunter said. "But can we continue to do this long-term destruction of the higher-ed system? No."

The state is already predicting a $900 million shortfall for the next biennium, and a Supreme Court ruling concerning money

for the state's K-12 education system will force the Legislature to find an estimated $1 billion to invest in public schools during this session.

Washington schools have raised tuition by double-digit amounts each year over the past two biennia. A year of undergraduate tuition at the University of Washington now costs nearly double what it did five years ago.

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard said Washington's university leaders want the state to return to a time when 50 percent of the cost to educate undergraduates came from the state and 50 percent came from tuition dollars.

Currently, nearly 70 percent of the cost comes from tuition and 30 percent from the state budget. The state budgeted about $1 billion for the six, four-year schools for 2011-13, about the same amount it budgeted for higher education in 1989-91. An extra $225 million in cash would bring the state contribution to about what it was in 2009.

Tristan Hanon, director of legislative affairs for the Associated Students of Washington State University, said students have been heartened by the university presidents' conversations with lawmakers this fall.

"I think it's going to be a tough fight, but I think a lot of legislators are starting to realize that this trend of disinvestment needs to stop," he said.