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Panel leans toward repeal of different rates of tuition

OLYMPIA – Some members of a legislative committee say they favor taking away the ability of the state’s colleges and universities to charge more for certain high-demand degrees.

Differential tuition was approved by the 2011 Legislature, but suspended in 2012 because of concerns about its impact on the state’s prepaid tuition program, known as the Guaranteed Education Tuition program. That program pays account-holders based on the highest tuition charged by a state institution to in-state undergraduates. It’s already underfunded by about $600 million.

An eight-member legislative committee met Tuesday. The Seattle Times reported that four members said they favor taking away the right to charge different tuition rates for different majors because it could negatively affect the GET program. A higher tuition for some programs could make the prepaid tuition program more expensive.

Two legislators also said they worried higher tuition rates for high-demand STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and math – might discourage students from majoring in those subjects. Engineering, in particular, is one of the programs most likely to see an increase under differential tuition.

“If we want to get people into STEM degrees, isn’t increasing the price on STEM degrees going to do the opposite of what we say we want to do?” asked Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

Panel members must make a recommendation to the Legislature by Jan. 14, when the legislative session begins.