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Gregoire wants to freeze tuition at 2-year colleges
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — Community- and technical-college students would get a break under a proposal by Gov. Christine Gregoire to cap tuition at current rates for the next two years.
That would keep annual tuition at the current level of $2,586. Tuition increased 5 percent this year at the state's two-year colleges. The proposal is part of a $172.9 million plan, released Thursday, that is largely focused on higher education in the state.
The governor's proposal would cap annual tuition increases at 7 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State University, and at 5 percent at all other four-year public universities.
Gregoire said she proposed freezing community-college tuition to encourage more students to get degrees.
"It would send the right message: Go to a community or technical [college], and then we hope you'll transfer and get a four-year university degree," she said.
In addition to spending almost $20 million to keep two-year-college tuition at current levels, Gregoire's proposal would expand WSU medical-education offerings in Spokane to train dentists, nurses and doctors. The expansion would cost about $15 million in a combined program offered by WSU, the UW and Eastern Washington University.
State Senate Republican Floor Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he largely agreed with Gregoire's higher-education plan, but he said she didn't go far enough in capping tuition.
"I'd like to see it capped at inflation," he said. "I'm very concerned about affordability of tuition to our universities by middle-class families."
Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate praised the proposal.
UW President Mark Emmert also agreed with the governor's plan. "What we heard today is terrific news for higher education and the state," he said.
Emmert was particularly happy with the proposed medical-school program in Spokane that would allow 20 students to take their first year of medical school through WSU and then spend the second year at the UW in Seattle. Gregoire's budget also expands programs for dentists and nurses.
"The additions of the new medical and dental students are very, very important to us," Emmert said. "Both those schools have been pretty static in their enrollment for a long time."
Emmert, who has been pushing for increased funding for the UW, also agreed with the 7 percent tuition cap as long "as it's matched with appropriate increases in state general-fund support for higher education," he said.
The university is looking for a budget increase of $80 million to $90 million over the next two years.
Gregoire is expected to release her entire proposed budget next week but has been highlighting major parts of it for the past few days.
The state works on a two-year budget cycle. Last year the Legislature passed a $26 billion operating budget for 2005-07. Lawmakers will put together a new two-year budget this winter. Tax collections have far exceeded expectations this year, and the governor's budget office now projects lawmakers will have about a $1.9 billion surplus.
Other highlights of the governor's proposal:
• $106.6 million for training programs and to increase enrollment at the state's colleges and universities by 8,300, including 3,300 students in high-demand fields such as engineering.
• $750,000 to create small-business development centers at Grays Harbor, Kelso and Pullman.
• $19.3 million to increase university research and help turn research into new jobs.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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