Tuition hikes loom for state colleges

SEATTLE — People celebrated last month when the Legislature said it wouldn’t have to make college any more expensive in Washington state, but many forgot that lawmakers had already put plans in place for a double-digit tuition increase next school year.

Washington State University’s board of regents posted a timely reminder Friday, when it voted to raise tuition 16 percent for the second year in a row.

That increase of $1,500 will make WSU tuition $10,874 for in-state undergraduates next school year. With mandatory fees added in, the bill will come to about $11,735.

The University of Washington is set to vote on a 16 percent increase in June after raising tuition 20 percent last year. A 16 percent hike, which translates to $1,564, would make in-state tuition $11,305 for the 2012-13 school year. With mandatory fees, students will pay $12,385.

Western, Eastern and Central Washington universities, and The Evergreen State College all made two-year tuition decisions last summer after the Legislature decided to put tuition increases of up to 16 percent into the state’s two-year budget. This year’s Legislature decided not to increase that figure, but they also didn’t make it disappear.

In-state tuition at Evergreen and Central will go up 14 percent this fall. Tuition at Eastern is going up 11 percent. Western will have a second year of 16 percent tuition hikes.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which oversees Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges, raised tuition last year by 13 percent for full-time students and 11 percent for part-timers.

The board will vote on this year’s rates next week. The proposal is the same as last year: a 12 percent average increase translated to 13 percent for full-timers and 11 percent for part-timers.

The Legislature put double-digit college tuition hikes into the state budget to help make up for another two years of decreases in state dollars going to state universities. Lawmakers also put more money into financial aid and set up a new fund to encourage corporations to support student scholarships through the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program.

In-state tuition has been on a steep increase for the past four years, but college officials are quick to point out Washington has not caught up with comparable universities from other states. For example, California’s state universities charge around $13,000 a year in tuition and mandatory fees.

EWU President Rodolfo Arevalo said Friday he hopes the positive economic news he’s been hearing lately will result in a better financial picture before the Legislature writes the state budget for the 2013-15 biennium.

Arevalo predicted the next tuition increases at Eastern would fall to single digits, hopefully not more than 6 percent.

Eastern is seeing the effects on students and their families of four years of big tuition hikes and a poor economy, Arevalo said. More students who have been admitted are changing their minds at the last minute and deciding to put off college because they can’t afford it.

“My philosophy is the best financial aid is low tuition. That’s what Eastern has tried to do,” Arevalo said. “If we could get away without raising tuition, we’d be very happy about it.”

Students and parents across the state would join that celebration.

Riley Myklebust, student body president at WSU’s Pullman campus, said when he was a high school senior he could not have predicted that his tuition would double during his college years.

The elementary education major also could not predict that his family’s financial situation would deteriorate during that time, which forced him to take out more student loans than he expected. He said the average WSU student graduates with $21,000 in student loans.

“I don’t believe that our state leaders realize the effects of raising tuition,” he said, adding that he worries about the future impact of student loans on the nation and the economy.

Work is another option for students. But Myklebust points out that when his father was a student at WSU, he was able to pay his college expenses with a summer of dishing out ice cream. A student working full-time making $10 an hour today would need to work three times as long — almost 30 weeks — just to cover tuition.

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