As the chair of the House Higher Education Committee in the Washington Legislature, it is my responsibility to ensure that students, families and taxpayers have a strong voice when it comes to education funding, access and accountability.
It has recently become the cause of several regents and presidents of some of the state’s largest public universities to do away entirely with the tradition of public oversight and accountability vested by the voters in the Legislature.
The tuition bill that just passed in the Senate will cost families, students and taxpayers too much. It gives too much power to a few unaccountable administrators and regents to set tuition rates for our state’s college and universities.
The Senate bill will allow big universities like WWU, WSU and UW to raise tuition rates 14 percent per year on average. A loophole in the bill will allow schools like UW with multiple campuses to raise rates as high as 20 percent per year.
The Senate bill also means families, students and taxpayers will no longer have a real voice when it comes to protecting the quality of our educational institutions and making sure they are affordable.
Shutting out the public from public education makes no sense. The future of Washington’s public colleges and universities is too important to leave in the hands of so few. As chair of the House Higher Education Committee, I am unequivocally opposed to the Senate’s bill.
Right now I am taking the lead on a new compromise bill that will keep the accountability of public university tuition rates in the hands of the public.
My bill will tie the performance of the universities to the amount of state funding they receive. It will give the colleges and universities the leeway they need to meet their budget goals through tuition rate setting but caps their yearly increases at 7 percent; far lower than the average of 14 percent allowed in the Senate version.
Last year amid our national financial crisis, legislators in Washington had to balance a state budget that was heading $9 billion into the red. At the end of the session, our colleges, universities and financial aid programs saw reductions ranging from 7 to 24 percent. Legislators helped the institutions offset those cuts by authorizing more leeway to raise tuition at higher rates than ever before and providing one time stimulus funding, resulting in net cuts of less than 6 percent.
These extraordinary efforts were made at a time when one state university paid its administrative staff a 23 percent increase in their salaries during the greatest recession in memory.
At a time when unemployment is at record levels, when working families are struggling to make ends meet and when students, now more than ever, need access to quality, affordable education to compete in today’s global job market, we cannot in good conscience take away their voice in the public process of tuition rate setting.
I understand that our colleges and universities are struggling to serve record numbers of students. I also commend them for providing Washington’s families some of the best universities and two-year colleges in the nation. I don’t want to sacrifice quality or access in these very tough times, which is why I am focused on preserving higher education funding this session.
Together we will ensure that our colleges and universities are fully funded so that they can continue to provide affordable, world-class education services to our students and future leaders.
Rep. Deb Wallace (D-Vancouver) chairs the House Higher Education Committee.