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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington State University proposes 2.5% tuition increase for upcoming school year

Bryan Clock Tower glows at dawn on Saturday, Sep 17, 2016, on WSU's Campus in Pullman.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Washington State University is proposing a 2.5% tuition increase for all undergraduate and graduate students for the coming school year.

For undergraduates, the change would equate to an additional $255 per year (from $10,202 to $10,457) for Washington residents and $628 for out-of-state residents (from $25,145 to $25,773). For graduate students, tuition would go up $295 per year for state residents ($11,781 to $12,076) and $647 ($25,879 to $26,526) for out-of-staters. Residents and nonresidents attending WSU’s Global campus, meanwhile, are facing increases of between $255 and $295 per year.

While tuition could be on the rise, housing and dining rates at the Pullman campus would not increase under the proposal, said Stacy Pearson, vice president for finance and administration.

Pearson walked through the proposed tuition increase with members of WSU’s Board of Regents, who met in committee Thursday. The full board is scheduled to meet Friday to vote on the proposal.

In explaining what the increase would be used for, Pearson said the university is still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and may encounter similar operational challenges in the year to come.

WSU experienced an approximately $6 million net loss in tuition revenue due to enrollment declines this past year. Applications for the coming year are also down at the moment; while the population of returning students is generally steady, Pearson said the number of incoming freshmen and transfer student applications is down.

“Just that balancing act of making sure that we stay current on our budget and keeping up with inflation, but staying mindful of the impact that it has on students,” Pearson said. “That’s the balance that we need to achieve.”

The proposed tuition increase is lower than the 2.8% maximum rate the state Legislature established this year for four-year public universities.

The 2.5% hike would represent the fourth consecutive tuition increase for undergraduate students, who have seen tuition rise by 6.6% in the last three years.

The increases have been steady: 2.2% for the 2017-18 school year, 2% in 2018-19 and 2.4% in 2019-20. Tuition was lowered by 10% for WSU undergrads in the 2016-17 school year due to actions taken by state legislators with the impacts of an economic recession in mind, Pearson said.

WSU undergrads in the last decade have seen tuition hikes as high as 16% (2011-12, 2012-13). The fluctuation in rates over the years has Board of Regents members considering the idea of establishing policy to make for more consistent, and expected, rates.

“I just really truly believe that the more we can reduce those barriers to not only entering WSU, but staying at WSU, the more we’re living that land-grant mission,” said Lisa Keohokalole Schauer.

Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president of student affairs, said her department is also looking to address the “disparate services” that exist across the WSU system, particularly those with physical and mental health. Only the Pullman and Vancouver campuses have fully functioning health service clinics for students, for example.

Gonzales said a group is working on a systemwide method to get telehealth and tele-mental health appointments for students.

“Our students have told us across the system, ‘I want to be able to lay in bed and talk to a counselor because that’s just what I need and where I’m at,’” she said.

Arliegh Cayanan, student regent, said he has heard from students frustrated with that outlook.

“I understand that we want to kind of standardize it,” Cayanan said. “It just felt like if they’re not receiving the benefit of those new services, it just felt like, selfishly, ‘why am I getting charged more?’ It’s like a tight rope that you have to walk on to balance that. From a student perspective, it’s really, really tough to explain that to them.”