History was made in Washington state this year. In June, legislators in Olympia passed a budget that reduces tuition at all state colleges and universities over the next two years.
Tuition will be reduced by 5 percent at all state institutions this year. Then in 2016-17, tuition will go down 15 percent at Western Washington University and other institutions, and 20 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State University.
The Legislature increased state funding to colleges and universities to ensure they do not have to reduce institutional budgets as a result of tuition reductions.
In 2017, a new tuition framework takes effect. Tuition increases will be limited to the average percentage growth in the median hourly wage for the previous 14 years. This is an effective limit on the future growth of tuition.
For years, the Legislature took budget votes that imposed a steadily rising tuition bill on our state’s college students and middle-class families.
We have moved rapidly toward a high-tuition, high-debt model of higher education. Student debt has grown with the rising costs of textbooks and cost of living. Many students are faced with a choice—a debt burden that will take them decades to pay off, avoiding college or dropping out of college. This burden falls disproportionately on lower- and middle-income students and families.
In 2013, we acted on a bipartisan basis to freeze tuition for the first time since 1986. We did that without raising taxes.
This year, with an increase of $3 billion of revenue projected in the 2015-17 biennium, legislators reduced tuition. Credit is due especially to Republican leaders in the state Senate.
Credit is also due to student leaders who have been effective champions for the cause of higher education at the state level over the past few years. Associated student organizations and student legislative liaisons have played a critical role in raising legislators’ awareness of the challenges facing students.
Students should not take this victory for granted. There is work to be done to prevent future tuition increases, even with the new policy that limits future tuition growth. We must protect higher education funding and keep tuition at a reasonable level.
Lower tuition will be a huge relief to thousands of Washington students and families. Let’s continue the movement for affordable tuition for this generation of college students—and for the next generation.
Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) is the ranking member on the House Higher Education Committee.