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Amendment to higher ed bill could make science and math degrees cheaper

Post by Katie Schmidt on Feb. 16, 2011 at 10:40 am | 2 Comments »
February 16, 2011 11:46 am

An amendment attached to a higher education bill that passed out of committee this morning paves the way for public universities to start charging different tuition rates for different majors.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Hans Zeiger and added to House Bill 1666, would limit tuition increases for certain “public interest degrees” in science, technology, engineering and math.

“The STEM fields are the foundation of our state’s economy, and the people in them are a large share of our tax base,” Zeiger said, using an acronym to refer to the math and science degrees his amendment would address.

The amendment would only allow tuition to increase 5 percent per year in degrees related to agriculture, biology, physics, computer science, medicine and other fields.

Because a 5 percent increase is even smaller than the 7 percent per year tuition hike the legislature allowed before the budget shortfalls of the last few years, this would probably mean that the tuition burden would be much heavier for students who major in other fields, such as the social sciences.

Zeiger, an Edgewood Republican, originally introduced the public interest degrees idea in House Bill 1954. When the Higher Education Committee ran out of time to hold a hearing on the measure, he proposed it as an amendment to House Bill 1666, a bill that would implement the recommendations of the governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force.

Zeiger said he was open to the idea of changing the amendment.

“The goal is to make this part of the discussion,” he said.

The House Higher Education Committee passed Substitute House Bill 1666, along with the Zeiger amendment, in an 8-7 vote this morning. Under the substitute bill, four-year colleges and universities in the state would get some tuition-setting authority to make up for shortfalls in state funding and a private-sector scholarship program would be established to help mitigate the rising costs for students.

Rep. Larry Seaquist, a Gig Harbor Democrat and chairman of the committee,  said he expected the bill to eventually be combined with another tuition-setting bill, House Bill 1795, that the committee passed Monday.

Next, House Bill 1666 will probably go to either the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee or the Ways and Means Committee.

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