March 25, 2011 in City

Rising fees stimulate interest in prepaid tuition

Program allows paying now for college later
Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
 

SEATTLE – With college tuition expected to increase at least 11 percent in each of the next two years, Washington’s prepaid tuition program is once again the hottest investment in the state.

A week before the current enrollment period ends, about 200 new accounts are being opened in the Guaranteed Education Tuition program each day. Program director Betty Lochner said Thursday they’re selling between $1 million and $2 million worth of prepaid tuition daily. She said new accounts could pass 15,000 before enrollment closes on Thursday.

Lochner notes, however, that the GET program usually signs up 70 to 80 percent of its new participants in the last week of enrollment.

This is the third year in a row that interest has been so high, mostly in response to big tuition increases but also because of uncertainty raised by several legislative proposals that could affect the program.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt have proposed a bill that would establish new limits on the program that might make it less attractive to potential buyers. Brown said the changes would aid its long-term viability, while making the GET program only slightly less generous.

Another legislative proposal that could affect the program would give some of the state’s university’s the authority to set their own tuition. The Legislature currently sets tuition for the state’s colleges and universities. Lochner worries that giving the authority to the universities could create more uncertainty for the GET program.

The GET committee adjusts the enrollment price each year to keep up with increases in tuition and the ups and downs of the stock market. The committee is scheduled to set the new price for GET units on April 26, but Lochner said Thursday it will delay that decision if the Legislature goes beyond its scheduled April 24 adjournment or leaves tuition setting to the very end.

People enrolled in the program have until April 30 to buy units for $117 each.

Under the GET program, 100 prepaid units will buy a year of tuition and state mandated fees at the state’s two most expensive public universities – University of Washington or Washington State University – whenever they are used in the future.

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