Almost two years ago, I witnessed then-Interim President Phyllis Wise tell a room of surprised faculty, staff, and student leaders that the school would not be lobbying for local tuition authority.
After a tough year of nervous students pitted against administrators in Olympia over the issue that ultimately led to no action, her words came as a bit of a surprise.
Eight months later, local tuition control was signed into law by the governor, and UW Impact — the unofficial but indirect nonprofit lobby arm of the school by way of the Alumni Association — labeled its sponsor Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, as the legislature’s “Top Dawg.” Two years later? Resident undergraduates are paying almost 40 percent more for their tuition than they did in 2010-2011. The lesson we can learn? This administration gets what it wants, and strapped students who increasingly bear the burden of such non-publicized needs are kept out of the loop for obvious reasons.
Although the administration wasn’t publicly lobbying for local control, they still managed to succeed. Several months after Wise’s declaration, I was told about a new, innovative “funding floor” model. How did it work? The Legislature would set a minimum funding level for schools, and if it didn’t give enough state funds to meet the floor, tuition revenue could be raised as high a percentage as needed in order to compensate. So — essentially — it’s local control.
As the UW continues to discuss and have more public conversations about differential tuition, it is becoming clearer that they want nothing more than to be able to charge different majors different prices for education. And they’re not going to let the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, the state’s pre-paid tuition system which is currently the biggest obstacle to the policy change occurring, stand in the way. Currently with the pre-paid program, families choose to provide an overall undergraduate education for their child, not something as specific as a bioengineering degree. UW administrators are even on record saying they won’t let GET stand in their way, with UW lobbyist Margaret Shepherd quoted in this paper two weeks ago urging the school to find new ways to stop GET from keeping them from this favored model.
No matter what they say, no matter what the legality may be, the UW administration is fighting tooth and nail to see differential tuition enacted. And they already have been.
Differential tuition, which has been floated around by the UW brass privately ever since tuition-setting authority was being considered, actually led to a small battle between administrators and student leaders this past January in Olympia. Program fees authorized by the proposed Senate Bill 6399, or what the then-ASUW lobbyists termed “stealth tuition,” would have allowed the administration to set higher fees for certain programs with limited-to-no student oversight. The student lobbyists, who were unaware of the bill until the day before it was set for a hearing, promptly curb-stomped it. Similarly, Sen. Jim Kastama, a Democrat in Puyallup, even called the proposal a “bait and switch” at the hearing.
Students have also seen so-called deliberations by UW administrators and faculty councils come to fruition. Early last academic year, the school sprung a controversial, $450 course fee upon School of Music students after extended deliberation but limited student consultation.
And while the 2012 bill failed, it’s evident that differential tuition implementation is the next major legislative priority for the administration. Recent quotes and hearings, too, suggest administrators want to see it implemented as soon as possible. They may express caution in moving forward, but multiple years of deliberation and scheming aren’t going to be put to waste. And while GET does serve as a hurdle to implementation, students anxious about the prospect of differential tuition have an obligation to play hard ball in the coming months, for the UW is going to be pulling out all the stops to see their future cash cow come to fruition.
Reach opinion columnist Bill Dow at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dowbill
Please read our Comment policy.