OLYMPIA – College tuition could fall more than 25 percent under a bill to link it to Washington wages.
To make up the difference, Senate Republicans want to give universities and colleges a bigger cut of the state’s already-strained budget.
“Despite having one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country, over 50 percent of Washington students graduate with debt,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey, the bill’s prime sponsor.
Debt for students who borrow for college averages around $24,400. Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, blamed stagnant levels of state funding that have allowed tuition to triple since the early 2000s.
The bill would cap how much colleges could charge based on a percentage of the state’s average wage, which is about $52,600. Washington State University and the University of Washington could charge up to 14 percent, or about $7,400 per year. That compares to their current rates of about $10,300 and $10,700, respectively.
Regional colleges, like Eastern Washington University, could charge up to 10 percent. Community colleges could charge up to 6 percent, although they’re already charging less than that.
Bailey introduced the bill Thursday with Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. It’s scheduled for a hearing next week in the Senate Higher Education Committee, where Bailey is chairwoman.
“We’re not asking the universities to absorb this cost,” Braun said. “We need to make the universities whole, so every dollar they lose under this program we would fill with state dollars.”
The colleges would need about $349 million to replace tuition, but savings in state scholarship programs would bring the net impact down to about $226 million, Braun said.
Senate Democrats quickly issued a statement calling the bill “irresponsible” and questioning where the money would come from.
“We can’t dangle the false hope of lower tuition and distract from the urgent need to invest more into higher education,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood. “This proposal leaves out the hard part of the equation.”
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, added, “I’m concerned about it coming from the social safety net and other essential services.”
But Bailey said more students graduating debt-free would provide fast returns: “If they don’t have debt, they’re contributing to the economy.”
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