This morning the House Higher Education Committee took up two bills that would reduce tuition at Washington’s public universities and colleges.
Senate Bill 5954 creates the College Affordability Program (CAP), removing tuition-setting authority for resident undergraduate students for the public baccalaureate institutions.
Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, tuition fees for resident undergraduates, under SB 5954, would be no more than six percent of the state’s average wage for community and technical colleges, 10 percent for the regional universities and The Evergreen State College, and 14 percent for the research universities.
Beginning with the 2015-17 operating budget, the Legislature would appropriate to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and each four-year institution of higher education an amount that is at least equal to the total state funds appropriated in the 2013-15 biennium plus the reduction in revenues from resident undergraduate tuition operating fees received for the 2015-17 fiscal biennium adjusted for inflation.
In addition the committee took testimony on HB 2201. HB 2201 would repeal tax deductions for the interest on investments for loans secured by mortgages, deeds or trusts. The revenue generated would be used to offset a reduction in tuition for institutions of higher education and any savings to the State Need Grant would be reinvested into the grant program to serve more students. The repeal would be sent to voters in a referendum for their approval.
The Council of Presidents, University of Washington and The Evergreen State College testified on both bills. Evergreen asked the committee to focus on the critical policy issue in front of Washington higher education, how to best provide sufficient, stable and predictable funding for the state’s colleges and universities. Whatever the path forward, it is critical that it must clearly and decisively link tuition policy and state investment for institutions and financial aid.
While the college appreciates that both bills continue to make an investment to provide affordable access in higher education and try to right the ship and begin to equalize the cost sharing involved in financing higher education between the state and students and their families, Evergreen expressed to major concerns.
First, there is the lack of a direct link between tuition policy and state investment in SB 5954 because it is a policy bill and not a budget. And while there is a link between state investment and tuition policy for HB 2201 the bill refers the decision to voters. If the measure were to fail the result would be a cut to higher education funding to simply meet current programs and services.
Second, both proposals only provide a path to address maintenance level funding for institutions. Neither proposal provides a pathway forward for the needed investments in higher education institutions and financial aid to take steps forward to ensure access to a quality, affordable postsecondary education.
Evergreen summarized by stating that the College values the focus on tuition policy, but this one part of the equation. The critical issue for higher education is how to provide adequate public reinvestment to accomplish the state’s goals for access, completion and post-graduate success.