Tuition Math

Today’s blog is all about tuition math. How can one predict what tuition increase the legislature will “authorize”–a verb we will discuss a little later.

The process the legislature uses to set tuition is neither science nor art. Pity our university budget staff who are trying to predict budget scenarios knowing levels neither for enrollment, tuition revenue, nor state support.

 Perhaps now would be a good time for a little tuition history.

 The history of tuition in the state of Washington is, to say the least, schizophrenic. From 1977 until about 1995, the state set tuition as a percent of the “cost of instruction”–always an elusive calculation. Believe it or not, in the late ’70s the state paid most of the freight, about 70 percent of the cost of education.

In 1995 the state disconnected tuition and cost of education. Since then the tuition policy road has been full of pot holes and hills. Increases have ranged from a high of 16 percent for research universities in 2002 to a low of 3.6-percent in the 2000-01 school year. Based on intuition rather than math (even bad math) tuition was de-linked not just from the cost study, but from any sort of predictability.

Those were the good old days.

For the last four years, the state has taken a new and darker tack. Step one: estimate the amount of money state budgeteers need out of baccalaureate education–one of the few unprotected areas of the state budget. Step two: estimate the tuition increase needed to partially backfill the cut. The result? Students are now the primary funders of state universities. We’re now publicly-assisted, rather than publicly funded.

Now you can see why the concept of “authorizing” a tuition increase is sort of like a car-jacker “authorizing” you to give up your car. You don’t have to, but……

For the upcoming biennium, the governor has proposed a 25 percent cut in state funding for CWU accompanied by two 9-percent tuition increases. Now the state House is vigorously debating cuts and tuition increases. A leading proposal is to give universities unlimited authority to increase tuition–as long as half of all tuition revenue generated about a 7-percent increase is dedicated to student financial aid.  The catch is, there isn’t anything “left over” for financial aid in that formula. The university is still below current fund levels.

The mathematical modeling continues and this is a normal part of legislative exploration and debate. There’s a lot of thrashing around, research, and experimentation. Things will begin to clear up as the session moves closer to legislative deadlines. The first one is just 10 days away on Feb 21. By then Senate bills have to move out of Senate committees and House bills out of House committees. The survivors move forward in the process.

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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