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WA Colleges, Universities Brace for More Cuts

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October 26, 2011

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Chris Gregoire releases her new supplemental budget this week, and those in higher education already are bracing for bad news and anticipating more tuition hikes to make up for state funding cuts.

At a time when student debt is expected to top $1 trillion nationwide by year's end, educators are wondering how much more students can pile on and still get the degrees that could mean higher-paying jobs in the future. At the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Executive Director Charlie Earl says unless new revenue is part of the Legislature's plan, tuition will be going up again.

"We are out of options going forward. Not only are we going to be charging more, it appears we're reducing the capacity - meaning we're not going to be able to offer all the classes that they need. It's pretty sad for us."

Through 2013, Earl estimates 20,000 to 25,000 students will not be served under the current state budget for community and technical colleges. With the possibility of more cuts, he says, as many as 18,000 more could be added to that number.

Sandra Schroeder, president of AFT Washington, says legislatures in many states started trimming public education funding long before the recession, while promising more financial aid to make up for higher tuition. The result, she says, is students who either can't graduate or who start their lives after graduation with mortgage-sized debts.

"When you see public higher education being driven in a way in which people can only get to it if they have huge amounts of income or are willing to put themselves in debt for the rest of their lives, we're no longer anywhere near fulfilling the American dream. And it should alarm all Americans."

Salaries on campus have been virtually flat, so Schroeder says that isn't the issue. At Washington's four-year public colleges and universities, the current state budget includes less money for higher education than it did in 1989.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA