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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 18, 2013 at 4:46 PM

State tuition could go up 5 to 7 percent, if funding remains flat

Earlier this year, the presidents of Washington’s four-year colleges promised to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition if the Legislature would allocate an additional $225 million to fund higher education.

But that scenario is looking less likely every day. If there are no increases — but also no cuts — tuition is likely to go up by about 5 to 7 percent in the next school year. Washington State University probably would raise tuition a little less than that, by about 2 to 3 percent.

The picture should become more clear Wednesday, when the state releases its revenue forecast.

Last week, the state learned that its budget shortfall had grown by $300 million, primarily because it miscalculated how much money it would save from moving certain Medicaid patients to managed care. The total budget shortfall is now about $1.3 billion.

“Conversations have gotten increasingly pessimistic,” said Margaret Shepherd, director of state relations for the University of Washington. “Legislators are telling us no new cuts would be a victory.”

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, says he’s still hoping to add an extra $300 million for all higher education needs, including money for faculty salary increases and help for community and technical colleges. But he noted that a House Republican proposal unveiled earlier added no new money to higher education, and “I have not seen signs that the House Democrats are planning to add money.”

“I’m now quite alarmed,” he said.

Shepherd said she expects most of the four-year universities will raise tuition by more than inflation, but less than double-digit increases — “somewhere between 5 to 7 percent to meet basic needs.”

WSU would raise its tuition less because last year President Elson Floyd pledged to keep tuition increases at the rate of inflation if higher education funding was not cut, said Chris Mulick, director of governmental relations at WSU. A cost-of-living tuition increase would be about 2 to 3 percent, he said.

It’s also unclear how the budget would affect community college tuition. Marty Brown, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, said that if there’s no new money from the state and no new tuition dollars, “it’s a reduction” because of inflation.

“We’re just starting the conversation as to what happens if there’s no cuts and no adds,” he said.

Comments | More in State budget, State Legislature | Topics: tuition, UW, WSU

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