RICHLAND, Wash. -- The rising cost of higher education is taking a toll on Washington students and several pieces of legislation are working their way through Olympia to help make college more affordable. 8th District Representative Larry Haler spoke with NBC Right Now about bills that are in the works. Haler is also part of the bipartisan Higher Education Committee and he said the three bills are individual but the end results will be intertwined and complicated.
Interim Chancellor Dr. Dick Pratt says just looking at WSU Tri-Cities, the state has cut its funds to the school by 52% since 2008. "Tuition has risen about 75% so where tuition was $6,200 or so in 2008, its now over $11,000 for 2012-2013," said Pratt.
Haler said the problem started in 2008 when the state faced a budget gap and needed to make cuts. He said lawmakers went from making education 16% of the budget down to 9%. Haler said families and young men and women are now paying 70% of higher education costs and the state is only paying 30%. Haler is co-sponsoring House Bills 1043, 1624 and 1453 to deal with the problem. He is proposing a tuition freeze and going back to a 50/50 split by the year 2020.
"To get back to a point to where tuition pays about half the cost of higher education and state support, tax support pays for the other half," said Dr. Pratt in support of the vision. Pratt said he could see this being a reality if lawmakers imposed a tuition freeze while still investing in the schools.
Haler said to make the tuition freeze happen, lawmakers need to make fund and put $225 million dollars each year to reach their goal of 50/50 by 2020. Haler is also a supporter of saving the state's GET Program, (Guaranteed Education Tuition Program) a15 year old program that allows families to buy tuition credits through out the years and have those investments cover tuition when they graduate. Haler said shutting GET would make the state liable for $600 million dollars and most lawmakers in the House of Representatives are against it. He said one way to keep GET going is to cancel the differential tuition law in place that charges students majoring in math and science more money than those who major in liberal arts. Haler said GET didn't account for any of the different rates for different majors years ago, and would also be greatly helped by frozen tuition rates.
Haler said to be globally competitive we need to educate the state, not make it more difficult to get degrees or we could lose our position as the leader in innovation and technology. He added that during the recession in 2008, those with higher education degrees only had a 3.5% unemployment rate in the state of Washington.