Momentum may be growing in Olympia for a new higher education funding model that would let state universities set tuition rates on their own.
As state funding for higher education continues to decline, lawmakers are taking a second look at funding ideas university lobbyists have suggested in the past with two bills that would probably mean big tuition increases in coming years.
“The larger systems question that we face today is how do we deal with the systematic de-funding of public higher education in this state?” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat and the primary sponsor of one of the bills. “The state is now a preferred minority shareholder of public education; we put in a minority amount of the money, but we have majority control.”
Carlyle’s bill, introduced Tuesday as House Bill 1795, would give the boards of regents for The Evergreen State College and state universities the authority to set tuition rates for four years starting with the 2011 academic year. Under current law, the Legislature dictates the percentage by which the state college and universities can raise tuition for resident undergraduates.
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It would also set aside 50 percent of the money brought in from any tuition increases over 7 percent for financial aid for middle-income families. To be eligible, families could make up to 125 percent of the median family income, or about $97,500 per year for a family of four.
Another bill, requested by the governor and introduced by Rep. Larry Seaquist, would allow the state universities and colleges to raise tuition starting in 2013 to make up for funding shortfalls in years when the state cannot appropriate enough money for higher education.
It would limit tuition rates to no more than the 60th percentile of tuition at universities in 10 “global challenge states” used as comparisons for measuring how well Washington does in education policy. According to the Office of Financial Management, University of Washington tuition was about $2,000 below the 60th percentile in 2010.
The governor’s bill, House Bill 1666, would also set up a privately funded scholarship program called Washington Pledge, which would be administered by the Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Under either bill, tuition rates would go up in coming years.
In her budget proposal, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested a tuition increase of 11 percent per year for the coming biennium, which would mean tuition at the UW would go from about $8,700 in the 2010-11 academic year to about $10,700 in 2012-13.
UW lobbyist Margaret Shepherd said this increase was not enough to make up for state cuts, so a funding model that gave tuition-setting authority to the university would mean that tuition probably would go up more.
Seaquist, D-Gig-Harbor, said both bills sought to institutionalize the recommendations from the Higher Education Funding Task Force, which released a report recommending tuition-setting authority in January, but Carlyle’s bill was the product of working with legislators to try to implement those ideas.
Student representatives said the Washington Student Association, a student lobbying group, opposed the governor’s plan because it does little to add financial aid and could lead to unpredictable tuition hikes. The group had not taken a stand on Carlyle’s bill.