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UW President Emmert makes case for tuition flexibility

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
January 20, 2010 4:19 pm

Mark Emmert made a pitch to the editorial board of the News Tribune today for the University of Washington’s main legislative request – the ability to set tuition without getting annual authority from Olympia.

Currently the Legislature decides during each budget process how much universities and community colleges can charge. The tendency is to allow small hikes in relatively good times and big ones in bad times.

Last session the Legislature authorized the six four-year universities to raise tuition 14 percent in the current school year and 14 percent next year. But that wasn’t enough to offset state budget cuts with more cuts coming this year.

“Tuition is the only reliable revenue stream and it’s where the world is headed,” he said. “The state is disinvesting in higher education.” Since the 2001-03 budget, overall state spending is up 40 percent but spending on the four-year colleges is down 7.3 percent.

For the first time, the UW gets more money from tuition than it does from the Legislature.

Rather than go through a process each year in Olympia, the UW would rather let its regents set tuition. And given the current budget climate and the continued decline in state support for higher education, the universities likely would continue to impose large hikes.

“You can’t get blood from a rock,” Emmert said of hoping for more support from the state budget. The state produces far fewer undergraduate and graduate degrees than it’s own studies say it should based on its population and economy – 4,000 fewer undergraduate degrees and 8,000 fewer masters degrees.

“You get what you pay for,” Emmert said.

The UW proposal – Senate Bill 6562 – with support from some but not all of the other colleges, would put some limits on tuition. For example, the UW could charge no more than 75 percent of the average tuition paid at comparable universities. That number now would be $10,387 a year while current tuition for in-state students is $7,692.

About 25 percent of in-state students pay no tuition and fees. Out-of -tate students pay the full cost of a year at the UW – about $25,000. Emmert said some public universities are using out-of-state students to make up for funding shortfalls. Arizona’s and Oregon’s student bodies are 40 percent out of state. The UW’s is about 18 percent.

Emmert said he understands the economy has damaged the state’s revenues. But states with deeper problems such as Michigan and California have cut support for higher education less than Washington.

“We’d take the worst funding in the University of California system – probably UC Riverside” which is about 25 percent more than the UW, Emmert said.

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