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2009 May 3 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Wash. Gov. Proposes Tuition Increases To Offset Budget Cuts

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked lawmakers to let state universities increase tuition by up to 28 percent over the next two years to help offset deep budget cuts.

The request is a change from the temporary surcharge Gregoire had initially sought. That surcharge would have been on top of the current 7 percent cap but would have been temporary and removed after two years.

“I’m asking our families and students to sacrifice a little bit,” Gregoire said, noting that recent increases in aid through Pell Grants and tax credits would “ease any of this increase in tuition.”

Under Gregoire’s current proposal, four-year universities would be authorized to raise tuition by up to 14 percent each year for the next two years. Community and technical colleges would be allowed to raise tuition by 7 percent per year.

“This recession will end, but in the meantime we cannot damage our universities and colleges,” Gregoire said.

Victor Moore, Gregoire’s budget director, said that after the two years, the cap would revert to 7 percent, but the new base tuition established by prior increases would stand.

Lawmakers are trying to fill a roughly $9 billion budget deficit. The House and Senate both rolled out their cut-heavy budget proposals last week. The House cut deeper into colleges and universities, while state senators took more from K-12 programs.

House Democrats propose a $683 million reduction in higher education, significantly higher than the Senate Democrats’ proposal of a $513 million cut.

Under the Senate proposal, public four-year institutions could raise tuition a maximum of 7 percent a year, and community and technical colleges could increase tuition by up to 5 percent each year. The House authorizes a higher tuition increase cap — 10 percent — for public four-year institutions, while community and technical colleges would be authorized to raise tuition by up to 7 percent each year.

When Gregoire released her budget proposal in December, the state was only facing a $6 billion projected deficit, and she proposed a 7 percent tuition hike for four-year schools, and 5 percent for two-year colleges.

“We’re in a crisis,” Gregoire said. “We should not resort to a second-class education system because we’re in a recession.”

Randy Hodgins, lobbyist for the University of Washington, said that the governor’s proposal was a good one.

“Do we like raising tuition? No. Do we think it’s an acceptable and much-needed alternative given the state of the operating budget? Absolutely,” he said.

Hodgins said that while the higher tuition won’t help prevent all of the enrollment cuts the university is facing, it will help keep more slots open, as well as helping the size and number of classes the university can offer.

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