SEATTLE - How much could tuition at Washington's universities go up in the next few years?
A Seattle Times analysis found competing budget proposals before the state Legislature could push the price of an undergraduate year at the University of Washington as high as $11,567, bringing University of Washington close to the cost at California's most expensive public universities.
Washington State University could go even higher to $12,281. Western Washington University could reach $8,784, with Central at $8,048, Eastern at $7,470 and The Evergreen State College at $7,937.
The Senate budget proposes a 16 percent tuition hike for the next two years at the state's three largest universities. Several other bills would let all of the state's four-year schools set their own tuition and set higher prices for certain majors.
Four different budget proposals are all trying to repair a $5.1 billion budget shortfall. Tuition hikes are part of the plan, along with higher education budget cuts as high as $642 million over the next two years. The large tuition hikes are designed to help the universities avoid further cuts to in-state enrollment and academic quality.
The universities are "reluctantly" considering big hikes because there's a sense that Washington schools remain a relatively good value, said Mike Reilly, executive director of the Council of Presidents, which represents the presidents of all six of the state's public four-year institutions.
He said students also want to make sure they get what they pay for and not have the value of their education hurt by state cutbacks.
Lawmakers are concerned about spots for state students being cut at in-state universities, while the number of out-of-state and international students is increased, to balance the higher-education budget, said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
In February, the UW decided to cut the number of incoming in-state freshmen it admitted for the fall quarter, and increase the number of nonresident students. Nonresidents pay nearly three times as much in tuition, and earn the school a "profit" of about $9,000 to subsidize the education of in-state students.
The UW's cuts in in-state enrollment have upset some Washington parents, who want access for their children at the UW, even if that means paying more in tuition, Carlyle said. "Parents don't just want a good price -- they want a slot for their kids to get in," he said.
Students at the state's three big universities are already paying almost 30 percent more in tuition than students paid in 2008-09, but if the Senate's version of the budget is approved, students at UW, WSU and Western will see tuition go up another 35 percent over the next two years.
In-state tuition would still be lower than some universities considered their peer institutions. For example, many of the schools in the University of California system -- which are frequently ranked alongside the UW in terms of quality -- already charge more than $11,000 a year for in-state tuition.
A bill that cleared the House Ways & Means Committee on Thursday would give four-year schools the authority to set their own tuition for the next four years. It would also set aside some of the increased tuition to help lower- and middle-income families pay for school. There's a similar proposal in the Senate.
How much should be set aside for financial aid is one of the major issues right now, said Chris Mulick, director of state relations for WSU.
Although the Legislature is set to adjourn April 24, a special session is expected. And tuition policy is very much up in the air right now, Mulick said.
"It's very fluid and early in the process," he said.