ELLENSBURG – Rebekah Schoonover’s parents, both real estate agents, already tapped their retirement accounts to pay for her first year at Central Washington University.
Now the 18-year-old freshman from Sedro-Woolley worries that steep increases may be too much for them to bear.
“You start to worry about how this affects your family,” she said.
Schoonover joined about 300 students who walked out of their noon classes Friday to rally and march to the university’s trustees meeting in protest of tuition increases.
State lawmakers approved an increase of up to 14 percent each of the next two years for the state’s four-year public universities. Most university officials have candidly said the full 14 percent increase is likely at their schools given the grim budget times, though trustees at each school still must decide final tuition rates for the coming year.
Central’s trustees met for the first time Friday since the Legislature adjourned on Monday. In the end, they met students partway, approving only a one-year budget with a 14 percent increase.
That means tuition will rise from $4,842 to about $5,517 per year.
Trustees elected to hold off on deciding the university’s budget for the second year of the biennium, buying university officials time to determine where program changes can best be made.
Before filling the meeting room and flowing over to line the hallway outside, students marched across campus, chanting “Fourteen percent is too high!”
Several students carried signs reading “I can’t afford 14 percent,” while others, including Schoonover, sported T-shirts in support of the trustees.
“We are supporting our trustees with the decision, but we are also asking them to keep our tuition at a reasonable rate so we can afford to stay in school,” she said.
The university must cut $18 million for the next academic year, said board chairman Sid Morrison. About $7 million will be made up with federal stimulus money, while the 14 percent tuition increase will account for $6 million more.
University officials now will work to see what program changes need to be made to save the remaining $5 million next year, as well as for the still-to-be-decided budget for year two of the biennium, he said.
“We went ahead and approved a tuition increase for one year. That’s the part I feel badly about, but that’s the only way we could keep the wheels on while a number of changes are made,” he said. “This puts the pressure on the university to determine those changes.”