On Tuesday the Washington State Senate voted 32 to 13 to pass Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1795, which would grant tuition-setting authority to the state’s public universities for the next four years. The measure, if signed into law, would directly affect tuition levels at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College.
Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, voted against the bill, saying it represents a tragic decision by legislators to reduce support for higher education.
“This is not really a question of whether the state has enough revenue for higher education; the state expects to have four billion dollars more in tax and fee revenue for the next two years than it is currently bringing in,” Baumgartner explained. “Tuition has been increasing at our state institutions because this legislative body has made a conscious decision over the past 20 years to spend less money on higher education, while it has spent dramatically more money on programs like low-income social services.
“We learned in our Ways and Means committee meeting that over the past 20 years, spending on low-income medical services has increased by 445 percent, while spending on higher education has actually decreased on a per capita basis. So that’s the real story. A conscious decision has been made to defund higher education to spend money on other areas, and I think it is a misguided decision.”
Baumgartner pointed to his experience at WSU as an example of how tuition should be set, saying the state’s decision to walk away from higher education will make it harder for students to afford a college education without taking on overly burdensome levels of debt.
“When I went through WSU and graduated in 1999, tuition was a little over 3,000 dollars, and it was just at a level where I could work during the summer and have part-time jobs and afford to pay for my own education,” said Baumgartner.
“What that level of tuition allowed me to do was graduate with a whole universe of things I could do in front me, because I didn’t have college debt. What I decided to do was spend a year doing social work in Africa. I think about the middle-income kids of today and in coming years who are going to have their choices constrained because this legislative body has decided to spend ever less money on higher education and ever more on other areas. It will cause these students to go further into debt. It will constrain their choices.”
Baumgartner said the measure could contribute to tuition increasing by 13 to 16 percent a year. At some schools, the jump may be even higher.
“Tuition should be set at a level where a student can reasonably work and pay for it,” Baumgartner added. “The Legislature should make that one of the top priorities of government. This bill walks away from that goal.”
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