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Wash. Senate approves tuition control to 3 schools

OLYMPIA — The state Senate voted late Monday to hand its tuition-setting authority over to the leaders of the three largest universities.

Under the proposal, which was endorsed 29-19, the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University could raise tuition each year for seven years. Yearly tuition hikes would be capped at 14 percent, provided the average annual increase compounded over 15 years wouldn’t be pushed above 9 percent.

As a trade-off, the universities must agree to yearly performance agreements and continue to finance financial aid grants at the current rate.

“We’re in a very challenging time in our economy, and for us to get out of this trying time, our universities need to be at their strongest,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. “They need to be part of the solution.”

The Legislature currently holds the authority to set tuition for in-state students. Last year, in the face of significant budget cuts, lawmakers approved a maximum yearly rate hike of 14 percent for four-year schools and 7 percent for community and technical colleges.

If it becomes law, the new policy would begin in the 2011-12 school year and last until 2017-18. It now heads to the state House for further debate.

Opponents of the bill said it will harm students, and argued that raising tuition is not the best way to strengthen the state’s schools.

“Unelected trustees and regents will be making the decisions,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, whose district includes Washington State University. “The unelected will be making those decisions. Who controls the purse strings has the accountability. If this becomes law, we’re giving up control.”

The yearly performance review will be conducted by a group made up of lawmakers in related legislative committees. The criteria for the review will include measuring the cost and quality of student progress, retention and recruitment of students and staff, and goals for long-term degree production.

The measure is Senate Bill 6562.