SB 5954 passed March 11, 2015 with a bipartisan vote of 37-12 and is now being considered in the House. This bill links tuition rates at state colleges and universities to average wages in Washington state. After the most recent recession, the Washington State Legislature gave four-year institutions authority for setting their own tuition rates (starting in 2011, through 2014-15). Since that time, tuition increases at Washington’s public four-year colleges and universities are the second highest rates in the nation, with up to double-digit annual increases. In response to nearly 28% cuts in state higher education allocations, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions in Washington State have jumped 37% from 2008-2013, what many opponents view as a hidden tax on college students and their families. HB 5954 removes colleges and universities’ tuition-setting authority for resident students and sets tuition rates as follows (2015-2017 biennium):
For 2YC, tuition rates are 6% of the state’s average wage
For regional public universities and The Evergreen State College, tuition rates are 10% of the state’s average wage
For research universities, tuition rates are 14% of the state’s average wage.
(State’s average wage is currently $52,635.)
Democratic senators who voted against the bill say they support lowering tuition rates, but do not know where the funding will come from, of great budgetary concern after the State Supreme Court found the State Legislature in contempt for failing to follow the court order regarding the McCleary case (failing to adequately fund K-12 education). Republicans counter that funding can be found if higher education funding is made a higher budgetary priority. Separately, some wonder if a higher education version of the McCleary case may not be in the making if lawmakers do not adequately fund public higher education.