Shaelah Easterday has $150,000 in student loan debt. As a middle child with five siblings, she takes out private loans on top of federal aid because she pays for college herself.
“I just don’t want my tuition to go up, to be honest,” Easterday said Monday.
Easterday, 24, is a pharmacy student at WSU-Spokane and a 2010 graduate of Gonzaga University, where she earned a biology degree. She and other students from across Washington spent Monday in Olympia for Washington Student Association Lobby Day, which featured a rally on the steps of the Temple of Justice.
“We vote to put these people into their jobs and they should be listening to us,” said the organization’s president, Shelby Pelon.
The group, consisting of student government representatives from each of the state’s public colleges and universities, is pushing for greater higher education affordability through increased state support. Tuition rates have increased by as much as 66 percent since 2007 at Washington’s public colleges and universities.
Students cheered as state Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, spoke about House Bill 1624, which sets a long-term goal for tuition to cost 10 percent of the Washington median household income.
“We’ve made the promise of higher education unaffordable to many of Washington state’s children and families,” Pollet said. “And it’s time to restore that promise of affordable access to our higher education system.”
House Higher Education Committee Chairman Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said the bill will get a vote in his committee Wednesday or Thursday. But its prognosis beyond that is unclear.
State Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, promised students at the rally that the Senate Democratic Caucus will reinvest in higher education.
A part of the Senate Democrat’s plan is Senate Bill 5420, which would freeze tuition rates for the 2013-2015 academic years if the Legislature disburses $225 million among the six public colleges and universities.
“I think the thing that we’re all really concerned about is the burden on middle class families in terms of additional loans,” said Frockt, who is a co-sponsor of SB 5420.
The Senate Higher Education Committee approved the bill Feb. 15, and it’s now awaiting consideration in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
According to the proposed legislation, the state covered 72 to 76 percent of student tuition 10 years ago. It’s now just 36 to 37 percent, leaving students and their families to absorb the rest.
The average Washington student debt upon graduation in 2011 was $22,244, according to projectonstudentdebt.org, a nonprofit independent research initiative.
Easterday was among the students advocating passage of HB 1624 and bills like it in their meetings with legislators.
“I just don’t think it’s right that people are in such debt they can’t even get out of it,” she said. “For something as simple as education, to me it’s a basic right.”