After a year of paying the highest tuition in the UW’s history, students may finally see some financial relief.
In late March, both the Washington House Democrats and the Senate Republicans released their draft budgets for the next two years; neither suggested a tuition increase.
“All the signals are at least on the right side of the leger, everybody wants to be commended for a good higher ed budget, and that’s a great thing for them to fight for,” said Genesee Adkins, UW Director of State Relations. “We can help them get there.”
The Senate proposed a 25-percent tuition reduction that would lower tuition to about $9,300. The House’s budget, on the other hand, advocated for a tuition freeze.
“It’s a strong symbolic gesture our state can make for students, for families, and for us in the system,” said Austin Wright-Pettibone, director of the ASUW Office of Government Relations.
The legislative budget should be finalized in June.
Both proposals require taking away local control, meaning the legislature will set tuition costs in Washington state, rather than the Board of Regents.
“A lot of credit and recognition should go toward our [ASUW] Office of Government Relations,” said Abby Kozyra, the ASUW’s communications director.
Wright-Pettibone has been working closely with the legislature throughout the 2014-15 academic year, urging for investments in higher education.
“Tuition reduction and ample investment in the State Need Grant are not paired in the bills,” Wright-Pettibone said. “The hope is that they will combine.”
About 33,500 students eligible for the State Need Grant last year were not funded, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council. Those same students may remain unfunded for upcoming years.
All but Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal suggest investments in higher education and a lower tuition or tuition freeze.
While tuition cuts or freezes decrease the university’s budget, investments do the opposite. If both are included in the final budget, the university’s overall funding will balance out. Both the House Democrats and Senate Republicans are proponents of such a balance, but have different methods of achieving it.
The House Democrats tend to invest in the UW rather than directly giving the university money. In the past, they have invested in competitive compensation for faculty, the STEM fields, and advising services.
“They build a lot of their budget around new revenue assumption,” Adkins said. “So if the revenue pieces don’t happen, some of that investment doesn’t happen.”
In contrast, the Senate Republicans invest large amounts of money to pay for their proposed 25-percent tuition reduction.
“Just by doing that, they’re not producing any more degrees,” Adkins said. “It’s a very, very large investment that kind of preserves the status quo as we know it, and their budget is not quite as robust for us on the compensation side.”
Still, both parties seem to be optimistic.
“Almost all of [the legislature] agrees that our current system is flawed and that students were needing to contribute too much,” Kozyra said. “It’s nice to see them putting their money where their mouth is.”
While supportive, some remain cautious of the proposals.
UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce expressed concern about the Senate’s draft budget in a statement on March 31. She said employees would be unable to get “the raise that they deserve” under such a proposition.
In response to each proposal the UW made both an initial Senate budget operating proposal and an initial House operating budget proposal.
“I like to think of things as arguing for affordability within the context of excellence,” Wright-Pettibone said.
While it is good that both the House and Senate are engaging in the higher education conversation, it is also important for the UW to remain a top-notch institution, Wright-Pettibone said.
Kozyra, unfortunately, feels she is going to miss out.
“[ASUW] prefers tuition reduction,” she said. “I’m personally jealous and angry that it may turn out that I went to UW for the worst possible four years of time, but thrilled for my younger brother.”
If the Senate’s proposed tuition cut does happen, it will be the first reduction since at least the 1970s, when the UW began keeping records on the cost of tuition.
Even with proposals out, student activism and lobbying may not subside.
“There’s a lot we can do in ASUW, but there’s a lot we can do to come together as one larger group to send a message for something to be acted on,” Wright-Pettibone said.
Reach reporter Kelsey Hamlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ItsKelseyHamlin