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Republicans in the state Senate are proposing a bill that could possibly lower college tuition by 25 percent at state universities and colleges.

Senate Bill 5954 outlines a plan beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, tuition for in-state residents that would not be more than the set percentage of the average annual income, which is currently $52,635.

Cost of educating a student per year. Grey boxes represent what students pay in tuition, and black boxes represent what the state pays. The white dotted line represents a 5.8 percent increase in net tuition paid per student. // Data from University Planning and Budgeting. Graph illustrated by Max Singler.

If the bill passes, Western’s tuition for in-state residents would drop to 10 percent of average state income, making it $5,400 a year by 2016-17, more than $2,000 less than current tuition.

The state House Democrats have also proposed a bill for higher education. SHB 1238 would freeze tuition costs and ensure that tuition is no greater than 10 percent of the state’s family median income, according to the bill report.

Western President Bruce Shepard said the university praises both the Republican and Democrat approaches and the university looks forward to addressing access to quality.

“High school graduation rates are flat, but more and more of those high school graduates are coming from families with more limited means,” Shepard said. “That creates a real train wreck with the higher tuition that has been established.”

Shepard explained that between the 2003-04 academic year and the 2012-13 year, state appropriation per student dropped by about 31 percent.

Western is depending more on tuition funding and less funding from the state, he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a bill that would cut tuition costs without creating backfill -- additional funds would not be needed to subsidize the deficit of cuts.

“In the House budget there was adequate backfill for freezing tuition, there was not in the governor’s budget and I have been quite critical of that,” Shepard said.

If tuition is cut without appropriate backfill, Western would not be able to pay faculty and have the same current class sizes, Shepard said.

As a result, students would have a lesser chance of graduating on time due to a decreased chance of getting into the classes they need on time.

“Even going up one-tenth of one year on average for graduation time would be millions of dollars out of student’s pockets [if there is no backfill],” Shepard said. “That is the tradeoff we have to focus on.”

Like many students, senior Julia Shimanskiy said she would not be able to afford college tuition without scholarships and financial aid.

Shimanskiy said she will be graduating with a lot of student loans and doesn’t have time to work during the academic year with her major.

“Even with FAFSA and grants I still wouldn’t be able to afford going to school unless I was working in the summer,” Shimanskiy said.

Higher education representatives for SB 5954 expressed their thoughts on the bill for the Staff Summary of Public Testimony.

Western Director of Government Relations Becca Kenna-Schenk, testified as “other” during the public hearing for SB 5954 in the Senate Higher Education Committee, according to Kenna-Schenk in an email.

This means Western neither supported nor opposed the legislation, Kenna-Schenk said.

“While this bill addresses the unfair split between tuition and state support, it does not increase overall investment in higher education, which the state desperately needs,” according to the testimony Kenna-Schenk was involved in.

An agreement on the final budget could be decided on in the coming weeks. However, there is a chance the governor will call for a Special Session if the House and Senate are unable to come to an agreement, Kenna-Schenk said.

“I think in the end we are going to be successful because the legislature has finally gotten the message that higher education is one lever it has got to build brighter futures for everybody,” Shepard said.


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