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Politics Northwest

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

September 24, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Senate Republicans try to blame Democrats for tuition hikes

State Senate Republicans are taking pains this week to try to finger Democrats as the bad guys when it comes to cutting higher education funding and allowing steep college tuition hikes.

And the Republican chair of the Senate’s higher education subcommittee has sent Gov. Jay Inslee a letter asking him not to trim higher education at all this biennium.

Here’s the background:  Last week, Washington’s six four-year colleges and universities declined to detail how they would go about cutting their budgets by 15 percent, as Inslee has asked them to do. Inslee’s budget people described the 15 percent cut as a useful exercise that would help state legislators understand the effect of cuts to various agencies — and help build a case for the need for more revenue.

But university presidents didn’t go along. They were only willing to describe the impacts of such cuts in broad strokes, such as cuts to enrollment and increases in tuition.

In the letter to Inslee sent Tuesday,  Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, says an analysis shows that a 15 percent reduction in funding could mean a 26 percent increase in tuition over the next two years. At the state’s two public research universities, the University of Washington and Washington State University, that increase would add about $3,000 to the cost of tuition, which is now about $12,400.

Bailey fingers a “lack of commitment by elected leaders” but also a lack of accountability on the part of universities as the causes of ballooning tuition that has “functioned like a tax on our middle-class families.”

“For years higher education funding has been used as a piggy bank to offset funding reductions in other areas of the budget,” she wrote. “As we work through the budget process and policy proposals, it is important to hold the line on higher education funding. We also expect higher education institutions to hold the line on tuition increases.”

A graphic released Tuesday by the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition suggests it was Republicans who were responsible for the freeze in college tuition, and that “30 years of near total Democrat control” is why tuition has increased 504 percent more than inflation at the UW and WSU over 40 years.

Of course, skyrocketing tuition increases have been part of the American college story for the past four decades. The College Board estimates that the average tuition at public four-year colleges has increased by 228 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars, in the past 40 years (from $2,710 in 1973-74 to $8,893 in 2013-14).

Comments | More in Education, State government | Topics: higher education, Senate Majority Coalition

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