January 28, 2010

Voices to be heard: young adults gather at Seattle art gallery to discuss tuition crisis

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JenniferGathered in a packed art gallery on Capitol Hill in Seattle, was a group of mostly young adults. They sat on stairs, the floor, and they stood. All eyes rested upon a pull-down screen that was displaying President Obama’s State of the Union address.

They did not assemble merely to watch the president speak from the nation’s capital, but to also discuss what was going on in their own capital, Olympia. The topic of the evening – higher education.

The event, “Olympia – In a Can,” was organized by the group the Washington Bus, a politically progressive non-profit organization aimed at raising political awareness among young adults.

Joining the group via Skype, were Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, chair of the Higher Education committee, and Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, vice chair of the Finance committee, to discuss and answer questions regarding funding for higher education in Washington. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties the legislators didn’t get to share much.

Filling in the gaps were Maggie Wilkens with the League of Education Voters, Mike Bogatay with the Washington Student Association, and David Parsons with the UAW Local 4121.

With the $2.6 billion deficit that the state faces, “cuts to higher education are inevitable,” explained Wilkens to the audience. Looking at the fallout of the budget crisis in California, where tuition has been raised 32 percent, students and interest groups are worried that something similar could happen in Washington.

“There is a lot of political will to let four year institutions set their own tuition rates,” Wilkens said. “But there must be strings attached.”

SB 6562 would allow four year institutions to set their own tuition rates, but the bill makes trades. The bill would require that the institutions provide a higher level of aid, increase and maintain diversity, and maintain programs that allow students to transfer from local community colleges. Additionally, it would require four year institutions to increase the percentage they are required to deposit into the Washington State Need grant fund from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

But Bogatay points out that many of the decisions regarding cuts, whether to higher education or other social programs, “are contingent on federal funds coming from the health care bill.”

If it doesn’t pass, “the Washington State Need grant might be back on the chopping block.”

— Jennifer Privette

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