Thursday, July 12, 2012
State universities in Washington are considering charging higher tuition for popular and lucrative majors.
That's a concept worth considering as the state looks for ways to make college more accessible amid tuition increases of 10 percent or more year after year as the state government cuts taxpayer subsidy for public institutions. Administrators, faculty (except at Western Washington University)and students are all taking hits as state governments tries to deal with the fiscal mess brought on by the Great Recession.
Yet, the idea of different tuition for different majors was snubbed last week when fears were raised that the plan could erode some of the stability of the state's prepaid tuition plan, known as GET.
A state actuary said the various tuitions could help the individual universities and colleges balance their budgets, but it could be trouble for the GET program. If tuition is differentiated, the actuary said, it could change the expenses for the GET program more than originally expected.
For an actuary, whose job is essentially a risk analyst, even minor concerns must be vetted.
But, considering the huge hits the GET program has endured over the past five years -- huge increases to actual tuition cost while its investment income has declined -- paying out a few bucks more for certain areas of study is hardly a blip.
What the actuaries should really be sounding the alarm about is the lack of a plan for funding higher education in the future.
We continue to believe lawmakers should have cut elsewhere even if it meant ending some valuable programs. Education, at all levels, should be a top priority of state government -- if not the top priority.
The huge increase in tuition has caused personal stress and financial strain for middle-class families across the state. It's making college unaffordable for some and creating mountains of debt for others.
The double-digit tuition increases can't continue.
Lawmakers must establish a dedicated source or sources of revenue to ensure the state provides an adequate subsidy to keep tuition costs down so all qualified Washingtonians have the opportunity to get a university or college education. In addition, keeping tuition in check will keep the GET program solvent.