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
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,
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
"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: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Citizens can contact
legislators directly by calling 1-800-562-6000.