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House passes bill limiting differential tuition at UW lobby day

Rep. Frank Chopp speaks during a rally as part of Huskies on the Hill. More than 200 students gathered in Olympia, Wash. to listen to speakers and meet with legislators. 

Photo by Joshua Bessex

Just as 200 UW students and a large cut-out of Uncle Sam gathered on the steps of the state Legislative Building in Olympia, Wash., a bill limiting differential tuition passed on the Washington state House floor.

The legislation, House Bill 1043, was just one part of the students’ lobbying efforts for the annual Huskies on the Hill event. An annual lobbying effort put on by the ASUW Office of Governmental Relations, the event brings students to the state capitol to speak directly to legislators.

This year, the students gathered with various agendas but for the same overarching purpose: to lobby for affordable, predictable tuition.

“Legislators tend to have this preconception that students are uneducated and not involved, and, in turn, students have an image of legislators as people who are ineffective and uncaring of student needs,” sophomore Nick Jaech said. “But, starting off our day to see that legislators are listening and passing legislations in favor of the students boosted our efforts, and, in turn, we were able to show legislators that we are willing to demand representation.” 

Jaech said, coming from the 18th district, he wanted to give his legislators “a perspective that they don’t get a lot.” He said his district doesn’t have any large four-year institutions aside from the Vancouver campus of Washington State University. 

“I feel like legislators from that part of the state don’t hear as much from student constituents when compared to legislators from bigger cities with 4-year colleges,” he said.

During the rally, Michael Kutz, ASUW director of university affairs, spoke about the importance of fighting against differential tuition through a personal story. Currently a junior and a computer science major, Kutz said differential tuition could have been an impediment to choosing his major.

“I believe most people come to the UW without great certainty in their major. We all explore a little bit. So why would we let differential tuition limit students’ ability to explore? Why would we let differential tuition price out the middle class? And why would we let differential tuition take away our freedom to choose?” he said. “We can be the students and legislators that stop differential tuition.”

The legislative priorities provided by the ASUW were to advocate for new revenue to be dedicated towards higher education, to preserve the GET program, and for increased funding for state financial aid programs.

“You’re already making a difference. You being here makes a difference,” Rep. Frank Chopp said at the rally. “I want you to go and emphasize things that appeal to people’s guts, not just their minds … and keep alive the hope for equal opportunity for all.”

After the rally, students split into groups based on their legislative districts and met with representatives and senators. In hopes of achieving their legislative priorities, the students shared personal accounts of how the rise in tuition has been affecting their education and asked legislators for their support in their fight for higher-education funding.

ASUW president Evan Smith, junior and political science major Adison Richards, and graduate student Tiffany Sin met with Rep. Larry Seaquist.

Sin is a second-year graduate student in the UW School of Public Health and is in a fee-based program called Community-Oriented Public Health Practice. She told Seaquist that fee-based programs are typically associated with executive, MBA, or MHA students, who make a lot more money after graduation, and for students in public health who go into public service after graduation, the programs are a financial burden.

“It’s really hard for students to stay in school,” Sin said. “Most students take out student loans with high interest rates. I’m coming out with $75,000 in debt for a two-year public health program.”

Sin also said that because of the fee-based programs, students end up taking minimal classes.

“We can’t afford paying for that extra, interesting, relevant [elective] class … we’re just taking the bare minimum so we can get our degree, and I think that’s a loss,” she said. “When I was over in Berkeley, in California, I was maximizing my credits … here we lose our comprehensive education.”

Some groups were unable to speak to representatives due to last-minute cancellations. Jennifer Gibbons, ASUW director of diversity efforts, said that despite this, the legislative assistants they spoke to were receptive.

“Overall, I think our presence did mean something,” Jaech said. “I think that there’s still a lot that us students can do, but in terms of being there on Friday, I think it was a really good way to show legislators that students are involved in the legislative process.”

Reach reporter Diane Han at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @di_aneee

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