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College Students Face Steep Tuition Hikes, Fewer Openings

Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, along with state's other community colleges, are losing nearly 13 percent of their state funding over the next two years and won’t be able to serve as many students.

Students attending college in Washington state are likely to see tuition rates spike next year—if they can get into classes.

Higher education funding took a big hit in the, which the House passed last Tuesday and the Senate approved last Wednesday on the last day of the special session.

The state’s 34 community and technical colleges, including Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, are losing nearly 13 percent of their state funding over the next two years and won’t be able to serve as many students, said Charlie Earl, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which administers the system.

“A lot of people want to go back to school, and we’re simply not going to have the sections for them,” Earl said Thursday in an interview with Patch.

Those who do get in will have to pay more.

Lawmakers authorized tuition increases of 12 percent each year at the community and technical colleges; 16 percent each year at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University; 14 percent at Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College; and 11 percent at Eastern Washington University. And all but the community and technical colleges can raise tuition more, with some conditions attached.

Earl said the community and technical colleges board will meet in late June to decide tuition rates. Average annual tuition for a full-time student is $3,100. If the board increases it the full amount it’s allowed, that would jump to $3,900 in 2013.

“Of course there’s a lot of pressure on the colleges to want as much tuition revenue as is reasonable because of the level of reduction in state funding,” he said.

The state is cutting the system’s funding from $669 million in 2011 to $585 million in 2013.

While Earl said he was pleased that lawmakers are giving schools more flexibility in how they use their smaller budgets, he said the cuts likely will mean staff reductions. And employees are taking a pay cut, as the budget calls for state employee pay to be reduced 3 percent.

High demand

In the past three years, enrollment has risen 15 percent to 18 percent, “mostly as a response to the economy,” Earl said. “I was just talking to a couple of presidents this morning, and their summer enrollments are high again, and their enrollments for fall quarter are at a faster clip than last year, which was a record year.”

The high demand comes as the number of student slots is expected to drop from about 163,000 full-time equivalents this year to about 151,000 by the end of 2013 because of the budget cuts, Earl said.

He offered this advice for students: “The colleges will do everything possible to keep their promises to existing students. We don’t want to not have a place for somebody who’s already started and is making progress in the programs. But for anybody new, get admitted and registered as soon as possible.”

In March, TCC President Pamela Transue told lawmakers that some 2,000 students are on the school's waiting lists each quarter, according to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

“Of those, 1,200 were in high demand STEM programs,” she said, adding, “Of 129 laid-off people who came in seeking classes and services for winter quarter, TCC could only serve 25."

“Students email me directly,” she said. “I hear from pre-nursing students unable to get into any class—not even one class—they need to get started on their path to education.”

‘Unusual times’

The UW, meanwhile, said that the budget cuts $207 million, or nearly a third, from its state funding base.

“It is hard to express satisfaction with a budget that removes another third of the University’s state appropriation, bringing it to just half of what it was three years ago,” UW Interim President Phyllis Wise wrote on her blog. “But these are unusual times, and to its credit, the Legislature did much to try to soften the blow and enable us to manage our resources in more efficient, targeted ways. … As the burden of paying for college has shifted from the state to students and their families, making sure that Washington’s citizens continue to have access to quality education is our core responsibility as a public institution.”

The UW Board of Regents will discuss tuition and financial issues at its June 9 meeting.

Running Start reduced

Even students trying to get ahead with college will be affected by the new budget. Funding for Running Start—which lets high school juniors and seniors attend community colleges and other post-secondary schools and earn credits at both schools simultaneously—is being cut back.

Previously, students could enroll full time in both programs and were considered 2.0 full-time equivalents, with their tuition paid. Now, they will be limited to 1.2 FTEs, so if they still want to be enrolled full time in college, they’ll have to pay for the remaining 0.8 FTE, the community colleges’ Earl said.

The cut is expected to mean a drop of 680 student FTEs per year across the state, according to budget documents. The community and technical colleges are expected to enroll a minimum of 11,558 Running Start students in each of the next two years.

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