Olympia Considers Tuition Hike to Close Faculty Pay Gap

By Tom Griffin

Undergraduate tuition could rise from 10 to 24 percent in the next two years under several proposals currently under debate in the Washington State Legislature.

UW officials say they reluctantly support an increase if it will help solve the University's number one problem-low faculty salaries.

In addition, the Legislature might give limited tuition-setting authority to the UW Board of Regents and trustees at other state institutions. Under current practice, lawmakers set tuition for the state's six universities and 32 community/technical colleges.

"Nobody really wants to raise tuition," says UW Government Relations Director Sheral Burkey. "But if state general funding continues to lag, we need to do something. Otherwise we can't maintain the quality of this institution."

Lawmakers meeting in the state capitol are considering several tuition plans.

Because of spending limits and a lower tax base, lawmakers have little extra money to devote to salaries or higher education. Since tuition falls outside of spending limits imposed by Initiative 601, it is one of the few alternative sources available.

Currently in-state tuition for UW undergraduates is $3,108 a year. Adding student activity fees and technology surcharges, the total cost is $3,495. The average tuition and fees at the UW's 24 peer institutions is $4,064.

If tuition rises, most of the funds would go to faculty salaries. UW faculty pay is currently about 14 percent behind its peers (see The Brain Drain, December 1998). Traditionally any time the state has passed a tuition hike, it has also appropriated financial aid covering 24 percent of that increase.

At the January regents meeting, President Richard L. McCormick said he "reluctantly" advocates a $50-per-quarter increase in basic tuition over the next two years. He added that "raising tuition cannot be the sole solution" to the UW's funding problems.

Under the UW plan, basic tuition would total $3,408 for 1999-2000 and $3,858 for 2000-01. Phased in over two years, it would amount to a 24 percent increase. Student fees would be on top of these figures.

In his budget proposal, Gov. Gary Locke advocated a 5 percent tuition increase in each year of the state's biennium. His plan raises basic tuition to $3,264 for 1999-2000 and $3,426 for 2000-01. Legislators are also considering other tuition plans.

UW student leaders have endorsed the Locke increases while opposing the UW plan. Graduate and Professional Student President Le'a Kent said faculty salaries are a real problem, but she also pointed out that UW students pay 42.5 percent of the cost of their education, while students at peer institutions average 37.2 percent.

But under Gov. Locke's proposal, there isn't enough money to close the faculty salary gap, says Burkey. The Locke plan would amount to a 7.2 percent pay increase. "We wouldn't fall further behind, but we'd make no headway in closing the gap," Vice Provost for Planning and Budgeting Harlan Patterson told the regents in January.

The UW plan would finance a 9.2 percent pay hike. "It would allow us some notice of turning the corner on faculty pay," he explained, but even under this plan, the UW would suffer from a 10 percent gap at the end of the 2000-01 school year.

At this point in the session, lawmakers are waiting for the latest revenue forecast, due on March 18. If there is more general fund money available for salaries, there will be less pressure to raise tuition significantly, Burkey explains.

Both the governor's and the UW plans raise tuition for non-resident undergraduates and for selected graduate and professional degrees. The increases range from 7 to 11 percent each year.

Another side in the debate is whether to grant regents the power to set tuition. Gov. Locke's plan gives governing boards the power to raise tuition in all categories except undergraduate rates. For in-state undergraduates, boards could raise tuition up to 5 percent each year, but they could also lower tuition.

"For us, local control of tuition is not an issue," says Burkey. "It's not who sets the rates, but that we get enough funding to turn the corner on salaries."

Students, on the other hand, strongly oppose the idea. They feel that lawmakers are more accountable to the public than regents and trustees. Shifting tuition authority to the regents "will be destructive to the public character of the University of Washington," warns Kent.

Lawmakers will be making major decisions on tuition and the state budget later this month. For help in reaching legislators or for background on UW legislative requests, contact the Office of Government Relations at (206) 543-7604, e-mail: <>. Citizens can contact legislators directly by calling 1-800-562-6000.

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