February 9, 1998 in Nation/World

Fairness Requires An Equitable Deal

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In the information age, artificial boundaries such as state lines are meaningless, contend members of the Washington state House Higher Education Committee. So why not knock down those boundaries and let Kootenai County and Bonner County students attend Eastern Washington University without the added burden of out-of-state tuition? In return, Spokane County students could attend North Idaho College and other Kootenai County public schools at the resident rate.

The subsidy could give sagging enrollment at EWU a boost and would be a start toward breaking down barriers to a common economic entity which includes Washington, British Columbia, Oregon and Idaho, say bill proponents.

There’s just one problem. Parity.

Reciprocal agreements are based on an even trade of goods or services.

As proposed, this bill provides a great benefit to Idahoans, but is less enticing to Washington residents.

Eastern is a four-year college with graduate and professional programs. North Idaho College is a fine community college, but it is a two-year institution. True, the agreement could include extension courses offered by University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College in Kootenai and Bonner counties. But extension classes pale in comparison to the variety of courses and service offered at EWU’s campuses in Spokane and Cheney.

Eastern officials say they are for the bill. They believe they have lost 350 Idaho students in the past five years because of rising out-of-state tuition. This could be part of the solution to their enrollment woes.

And what do Washington residents get in exchange? Enrollment at a community college that already has a tradition of strong enrollment.

This could be the rub for Idahoans. What if Washington students tried to enroll at NIC in large numbers? Would Idaho taxpayers be willing to foot the bill for expanded programs? Would Washington students be turned away?

It is more likely the student exodus would be from North Idaho to EWU. After all, Spokane already has two community colleges.

Supporters of the bill claim that classes by computer are rendering state and international borders meaningless. That might be true for a few courses. But for now, a student can’t get a degree in dental hygiene or physical therapy without hands-on experience under the supervision of an instructor.

It seems the bill’s only attraction in Washington is that it might shore up enrollment at EWU. That’s a bad deal for taxpayers. Eastern shouldn’t compensate for its failure to attract in-state students by offering a low-cost, subsidized education to out-of-state residents whose taxes don’t contribute to the cost of higher education in Washington.

If legislators are interested in a reciprocal education agreement between the two states, they should make it between EWU and the University of Idaho, schools that are comparable in terms of enrollment and course offerings.

Knocking down artificial boundaries in the interest of a regional economy is a worthy goal. But before we remove these boundaries we must make sure it is equitable to taxpayers on both sides.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Kafentzis/For the editorial board

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