Senate Democrats today announced a plan to fund public higher education, halt tuition hikes and preserve the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program.
"Middle class prosperity is built through higher education," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.
“Our public higher education institutions are a crucial pathway to success and we need to make sure they remain affordable and accessible for the next generation. Tuition has nearly tripled since 2000, with most of the increase coming in the last few years. I don’t know how a family could be expected to plan their savings for college with that kind of financial uncertainty. We owe it to our kids to make sure that they can go to college without breaking the bank.”
The plan, consisting of the bills SB 5390, SB 5420, and SB 5421 would immediately halt tuition increases for the next two years and would set up a task force to review and implement a Race to the Top-style incentive funding model to fund public higher education institutions going forward.
The plan would also allow the state government to preserve the GET program, a program through which people can buy tuition credits ahead of time at current prices and then redeem them when the student attends a Washington public higher education institution. The GET program has been targeted for elimination by the Senate Republican majority in recent weeks.
Students defended the GET program as a crucial tool for helping families save for college. “My parents' investment in the GET program is the only reason I will be able to graduate with no debt without financially burdening my family,” Lummy Lin, a student at the University of Washington originally from Sammamish, said. “As I take my first steps in the professional world, this means that I have the freedom to pursue the career I want in public service without having to choose a job based on my ability to pay back loans. Because of the GET program, my parents have the peace of mind of knowing that their two daughters are guaranteed a college education, and now they can save for more for their own retirement.”
According to a report recently released by the state Actuary’s office, if the GET program and our current tuition structure are maintained in their current configurations, there is only a 0.6 percent chance that the state will need to pay out of the general fund to cover liabilities in the GET program.
“That’s based on the current funding model, where the state pays for about 30 percent of higher education costs and tuition covers the other 70 percent,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. “If we were to move to a 40/60 split, the risk of needing general fund money to cover GET liabilities would go down to just 0.2 percent. But we think we can do even better than that. This plan puts us on track to fund 50 percent of higher education from state support and 50 percent from tuition by 2020. That’d save GET, save our students from crushing debt loads, and open a crucial pathway to opportunity to so many students who are priced out of higher education now.”
SB 5420 would immediately halt tuition increases for the 2013-2015 biennium and incorporates the recommendations made by the presidents of the six public baccalaureate institutions. SB 5390 would set up an incentive funding model to award additional funding to institutions who demonstrate improvement in metrics already tracked under state law, like the number of degrees awarded, time to degree completion, and keeping tuition affordable. The bill wouldn’t involve new standards or reporting requirements. Instead, it would fund reforms already passed. Institutions would compete against themselves, not other institutions, and participation would be voluntary on the part of each institution. A task force would be appointed to review and implement the funding model.
“If we want a prosperous middle class, higher education must be affordable and accessible,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “This proposal is a win-win-win for businesses that need trained workers, middle-class families that need to save for their children’s education, and for our children, who deserve the best possible opportunities we can give them.”