Students rally across state

Hundreds of University of Washington students gathered at noon Friday on the Capitol steps to voice their displeasure over increased tuition and proposed cuts to financial aid and the school's budget.

A state trooper estimated the crowd at 300 to 350 people. About the same time, students at Western Washington University, The Evergreen State College and Central Washington University staged walkouts. About 500 Eastern Washington University and 150 Washington State University students also held walkouts recently, media reports say.

At the rally at the Capitol, UW junior Yunhee Choi, who said she comes from a low-income, single-parent household, said she couldn’t have gone to college without financial aid. Now she worries she won’t be able to continue her education.

Choi has her tuition guaranteed by Husky Promise and benefits from the state’s work-study program. Both programs could take a dramatic hit as lawmakers look to bridge a $2.6 billion budget gap.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s first supplemental budget proposal would have cut about $146 million from the State Need Grant program and $89 million from two-year and four-year schools. It would have suspended the work study program, along with several smaller financial aid programs.

Gregoire pledged to restore cuts to the need grant program as part of an updated budget released last month, but it’s too early to tell what will be spared.

“If these cuts take place, my life is over,” Choi said.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, talked about the imprint higher education has left on his father, who attended college using the GI Bill and earned a number of degrees. He became a college professor and lives down the street from his son, Kastama said.

“I look back at him and am constantly reminded of the power of higher education,” said Kastama, a member of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.