Thursday, February 2, 2012

News Release: Higher Education Coordinating Board voices alarm at continued state funding cuts

OLYMPIA – The 10 citizen members of the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which provides coordination and oversight for the state’s higher education system, say they are ‘deeply troubled’ by the state’s inability to deliver on its central planning goal of raising educational attainment.

In forwarding the 2012 update of the state’s Strategic Master Plan to the Governor, board members emphasized the state is losing ground in efforts to increase the percentage of citizens who have completed postsecondary education:  apprenticeships, certificates, or degrees.

Washington is 9,000 degrees short of being on track to raise annual bachelor’s degree production to 39,000 — one of the principal strategies approved in the 2008 Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education in Washington, board members noted.

Progress to increase the number of mid-level and advanced degrees and certificates has been equally stymied by deep budget cuts over the last four years.

In a letter sent with the 2012 Plan Update to the Governor, legislators, education stakeholders, and the media, board members stated they could no longer sit by quietly watching the erosion of ‘our excellent higher education system… and not raise our collective voice in alarm.’

The grave possibility of continued deep budget cuts this year, continued reductions in student financial aid, and unprecedented tuition increases are creating a firestorm that is reducing academic options, limiting access, and eroding affordability for thousands of students, board members stated.

“When we cut higher education funding, we disinvest in a critical economic priority and we abdicate our responsibility to offer and incent educational opportunity to all our citizens,” the letter said.

The citizen board is charged by statute to represent the broad public interest in higher education above the interests of the individual institutions.  In existence since 1985, the board will complete its work later this spring, when it is replaced by a new council composed of institutional representatives and citizen members under legislation currently being considered.

Bill addressing differential tuition under consideration in Senate

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law allowing the state’s higher education institutions to charge differential fees for specific, high-cost courses such as engineering. These differential fees would not be required of all students.
The Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, which is administered by the HECB, published a short background paper Wednesday on the impact a new differential fee bill, SSB 6399, could have on the GET program.
Under existing law, tuition consists of building fees and operating fees charged to all students registering at state colleges and universities. Under the GET program, a family’s decision to purchase 100 GET units today guarantees a year of future resident undergraduate tuition and state-mandated fees at the most expensive public university in Washington. The state-mandated fees that are covered by GET are those charged to all students. This original GET guarantee is honored for all participants. SSB 6399 would make it clear that the term operating fee does not apply to differential fees that are unique to specific programs of study.
The HECB supports the legislation to ensure the continued solvency of the GET program. The language of SSB 6399 is in line with the current GET statute and GET’s Master Agreement. Increasing the amount of fees GET is responsible for would result in a substantial increase in GET’s unit price, putting college savings further out of reach for thousands of families.
SSB 6399 was passed by the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee Wednesday and sent to the Ways and Means Committee. The substitute included amendments requiring institutions to consult with student associations before establishing differential fees and further defines such fees.