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Washington tuition bill closer

Thu., April 23, 2009

OLYMPIA – Washington students could pay more for a college diploma under a bill approved by the state House on Wednesday.

The measure, approved on a 50-47 vote, removes the current 7 percent cap in annual tuition increases for undergraduates who are state residents.

The state budget will set a new cap on tuition hikes, likely to be 14 percent for each of the next two years. That translates to about $875 more per year at the University of Washington, which has the state’s most expensive public university tuition.

Each four-year university will set its own tuition rate, but officials say only a few schools are likely to hike tuition by the full 14 percent per year.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further debate. It’s likely to pass the full Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire, as part of the plan for fixing an estimated $9 billion state budget shortfall.

Lawmakers are poised to cut deeply into higher education spending. Raising tuition is seen as a way to partially offset those budget cuts, helping universities keep more teachers on payroll and offer a fuller array of classes.

But even supporters of the bill weren’t thrilled to vote for it.

“None of us here are supporting this bill because we think it’s the right thing to do – to put more of the burden on the backs of our students,” said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations Committee.

Community college tuition is also expected to climb in the next two years, under separate legislation.

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