Gregoire says she'll sign bill letting schools set tuition
The state's five public universities and The Evergreen State College will set their own undergraduate tuition under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to be signed by the governor.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — The state's five public universities and The Evergreen State College will set their own undergraduate tuition under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to be signed by the governor.
House Bill 1795, which gives the institutions tuition-setting authority for four years, passed both the House and Senate with large majorities.
The measure would help institutions make up some of the budget cuts lawmakers have proposed by increasing tuition. Middle-class students also would get some financial aid under the measure, to help them cover the higher costs.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday she will sign the legislation. "No one wants to raise tuition, but the fact of the matter is if we want to maintain quality and keep the doors to higher education open in this state, that bill is the key to making both of those happen," she said.
Washington is one of the few states in the country in which the Legislature sets tuition. Previous attempts to give schools tuition-setting authority have failed.
The proposal succeeded this year because the state Legislature faces a $5.1 billion budget shortfall.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the Legislature had little choice.
Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, approved by voters in November, requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate or voter approval to raise taxes. That requirement precluded the Legislature from giving universities more funding, she said on the Senate floor.
"So here we are with this piece of legislation," Brown said, adding later, "We need to preserve the uniqueness of this incredible system of public education. This bill will help us do that and stave off further deterioration in quality."
Opponents said the public should prepare for large tuition increases.
"I hope the citizens of the state realize what's going on here," said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. "The tuitions are going to vault every year. They are going to get higher and higher. Big, steep stuff, and the options are going to be very difficult."
Under the legislation, the governing board for each school could set tuition rates starting with the fall 2011 session.
The bill would also allow the schools to set higher rates for more expensive programs. For example, it might cost more to get an engineering degree than a history degree because engineering students do some of their work in labs, which can be expensive to operate.
In addition, the bill would set the UW's in-state freshman enrollment at a minimum of 4,000 students, starting in the 2012-13 academic year. That's in response to the UW's decision this year to decrease in-state freshman enrollment by 150 students and admit more out-of-state and international students, who pay nearly three times as much in tuition.
The bill would provide financial assistance on a sliding scale to students from families who earn 125 percent or less of the state's median family income, or about $97,500 annually for a family of four. Supporters of the legislation said the provision would take some of the sting out of higher tuition for middle-class students, whose families often struggle to pay college costs but make too much to qualify for aid.
Currently, only students whose families make 70 percent or less of the median family income, or $54,500 for a family of four, are eligible for state tuition relief, in the form of state grant money.
The money to backfill the tuition increases would come from students who pay full tuition.
Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.
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