The Legislature should make every effort to fully fund the $198 million sought by Washington’s universities in order to hold tuition steady for the next two years and to maintain institutional quality, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said today.
“Higher education is a public good that we must support as a community,” said Frockt, a member of the Higher Education and Ways and Means committees. “Low- and middle- income students continue to struggle to finance their education and yet we know that the lifetime earnings for those with a college degree will far outpace those without. College access is also the key to breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty. So this is the right public investment if we want to keep the gateway to the middle class open.”
“Since 1991, cuts in state spending have raised the students’ share of tuition costs by 356 percent,” said Kohl-Welles, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Higher Education Committee, Ways and Means Committee member, and vice-chair of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. “That’s a deal breaker for many middle-class families and students who face a choice between passing up on college or taking on crushing debt. This is not the recipe for a healthy middle class.”
The radical increase in tuition is the result of a dramatic flip in who pays the lion’s share of the cost of a college education at state institutions. In 1991, the state funded 82 percent of the cost and students paid 18 percent; by 2013, the state’s commitment had fallen to 34 percent and students’ had risen to 66 percent. The senators believe that the state policy should be to move back toward a 50/50 split over time.
“It’s easy to say we support education, but the true measure of our commitment will lie in what this Legislature does to balance the debilitating cuts that were made during the Great Recession,” Kohl-Welles said. “We made some hard choices to balance the budget during hard times, and now it’s time to move the pendulum back on the side of the households across this state whose success hinges on access to an affordable college education.”
“In addition, we must move aggressively to fully fund the State Need Grant program,” Frock said, “Right now, we are only meeting the needs of 70 percent of those who are eligible for the SNG, leaving 30,000 eligible but unserved – with no option other than to tack on more student loan debt as they seek a degree or more workforce skills. This lack of full funding also drives up costs in our College Bound Scholarship program since the two programs are linked. Full funding will also free up institutional aid for middle-income students just above the SNG cutoff line as a recent UW student report demonstrated. State policy should be to expand educational opportunity at every juncture, not curtail it.”