State lawmakers worried that Washington's prepaid tuition program could go broke have proposed changes that the program's director says may hasten its demise.
“What is the problem they are trying to solve?” said Betty Lochner, director of the Guaranteed Education Tuition program.
The bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mike Hewitt would establish new limits that Lochner says would make the program less attractive and divide new participants from existing ones.
Lochner says the proposed changes would effectively stop the current GET program and start a new one.
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“If we’re trying to solve long-term liability, the worst thing you can do is stop the program because it locks in your liability. It doesn’t give you a chance to make up for bad times,” she said.
Brown, D-Spokane, and Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, disagree. The changes would aid long-term viability, and make the program only slightly less generous, Brown said, adding that some more pessimistic lawmakers have called for an end to the program entirely.
“I know that sometimes a small problem can turn into a large problem,” said Brown, who is also an associate professor at Gonzaga University’s organizational leadership program and previously was an associate professor of economics at Eastern Washington University. “Having some tightening up on the program actually makes it stronger over the long-term.”
As the GET program currently stands, 100 prepaid units, which cost $117 apiece this year, will buy a year of tuition and state mandated fees at the state’s two most expensive public universities — University of Washington or Washington State University — whenever they are used in the future.
Students who decide to go to another, cheaper Washington college or university can cash in fewer units each year to cover their tuition or use some to pay for other college expenses. For example, it costs about 75 units for full-time tuition at The Evergreen State College. Units can also be cashed in to pay for private school or out-of-state tuition.
Substitute Senate Bill 5749 would decrease the value of GET units considerably for people who buy into the program starting next August. For new investors, 100 units would be worth the average of tuition at all of the state institutions of higher education, weighted by the number of enrolled undergrad students, and would cover some but not all student fees.
The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Higher Education Committee.