On Monday, I had the pleasure of meeting with members of the Associated Students of Washington State University and the Washington State Students Association. I talked to a number of students from WSU who depend both on grants and state work study to maintain their enrollment.
Since the 2007-09 biennium, state support for higher education has dropped by nearly $670 million. By the end of the 2011-13 biennium, the state’s share of the cost of educating a student at our institutions will have dropped from around 81 percent a decade ago to approximately 34 percent. The government has asked students and their families to shoulder more of the burden by paying for an ever-increasing share of the cost of a college education in the form of higher tuition. One side effect of this policy is that students and their families are running up increased debt loads. This can amount to a small mortgage for a graduating student coming into a soft economy. Add to this the suggestion that financial aid investments like State Work Study be eliminated in the name of saving around $8 million this biennium and you can understand why I believe that our higher education policy is moving in the wrong direction.
I have proposed two bills this session to at least address parts of these larger issues. Senate Bill 6121 would require schools to offer a curriculum to shed light on the financial aid contracts students are entering into, enabling them to better plan their futures. This bill already passed the Senate. It was just voted out of a House committee today and is headed for the House floor – I hope. Senate Bill 6447 would impose a $10 fee on certain corporation and partnership license applications to partially fund State Work Study. While it did not clear committee, I believe that its goal of finding a solution to maintain State Work Study is something that ought to be part of the final budget. The bottom line is this. We shouldn’t cut state support and allow for increased tuition, and then cut key financial aid investments.
I believe now is the time for students to mobilize and make their voices heard. In the end, they will be the people impacted and their stories and experiences will be more effective in illustrating these dire circumstances. It is my hope that they can make their case to the Legislature that further degradation of the higher education system would be the ultimate step backward for our state and out students.