The Advanced Tuition Payment, Legislative Advisory Committee met yesterday, June 28 on the health of the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, Washington’s prepaid tuition program. The State Actuary was on hand to report on its status. GET has been on shaky ground due to the combined forces of double-digit tuition growth and the falling value of its investments, resulting in the program to be underfunded. However, after continued popularity with the general public, the Actuary reported that GET is “roughly on track” to be fully funded in 17 years.
The issue of full funding has been an ongoing concern for the Legislature and to those who have bought into the program. The Legislature has remained particularly concerned because a GET contract promises that the State will make up any shortfall in funding. GET began running into funding issues at the start of the recession, and in order to build up reserves, the cost of a GET unit increased this year by more than at any time in the history of the 14-year-old program, jumping from $117 in 2010-11 to $163 this year.
As well as the current health of the program, the committee heard analysis of how the program might be impacted if colleges and universities in Washington implement differential tuition rates. Differential tuition, the practice of charging students different rates of tuition depending on what program of study they chose, has become an issue of concern for the GET program. Institutions were authorized in 2011 to charge differential tuition rates if they so desired, however, the practice has yet to be implemented at any university or college. Of primary concern at the Legislature is how differential tuition might negatively impact the GET program.
The State Actuary provided analysis of two scenarios. Currently GET has an 80% funding status. A 20% increase in the cost of a GET credit with differential tuition would result in a 67% funded status, and a 50% increase results in a 54% funded status. In order to make this up, the cost of GET credits increases significantly. Currently $163, a 20% increase results in a $257 price tag, and a 50% increase at $521 price tag. Not surprisingly, legislators were alarmed at this rate increase but unable to come to a conclusion. Committee staff members provided a few recommendations on how to proceed, but no final decisions were made. The Committee is expected to meet once more before the fall when recommendations must be made to the legislature.