College must prepare to up tuition, cut courses

Two years ago the Washington State Legislature promised not to exceed 7 percent on tuition increases. On Monday, Senate Democrats revealed their intentions to break that promise.

In recent releases on Budget Alert: Tuition Hikes and Cuts, the Legislative Committee of Associated Students of Bellevue College stated that budget proposals have been introduced in both the House and the Senate to determine the outcome in higher education.As of this release, the state proposes to raise tuition by 10 percent to 14 percent for the students at four year institutions, and 7 percent to 10 percent for students at community colleges. These increases are to be compounded, equating to a 70 percent tuition increase in four years. For the middle class family, financial aid is to be reduced by close to 50 percent.

Washington State Senate Democrats promised the cut of state spending, resulting in $1.3 billion in cuts to public schools and higher education. As stated in The Seattle Times at the end of March, budget documents indicate cuts of $877 million for public schools. Lawmakers would reduce funding for Initiative I-728, which was approved by voters in 2000 to reduce class size, leading to cuts in levy equalization funds for property-poor districts.

The legislative committee announced higher education budget cuts of over $710 million anticipated for 2010. According to a budget forum this January, cuts to Bellevue College will result in the closure of the north campus, elimination of 35 courses, and discontinued technological advancements. With the cuts increasing dramatically in the short time period, the impact falls on the quality of instruction with increased class size and course availability, as well as student support services.

According to Senate Democrats, higher education would be cut by about $513 million, with a percentage of that amount being offset by tuition increases. Four-year institutions will be allowed to increase tuition for resident undergraduate students by 7 percent and two-year colleges by 5 percent.

To create the balance in these figures, Washington State legislators have resorted to shifting enormous financial burdens onto those involved in schools. This fall’s incoming freshman borrowers can expect an average debt of over $30,000 upon graduation, and graduate students can expect over $100,000.

The recently posted budget also would eliminate pay increase for state workers and teachers and reduce health care for the poor. The cuts total about $3.8 billion.  Budget writers say the reductions would eliminate about 10,000 places for students at state colleges and universities, among other cuts.

The statement from the budget writers indicates that overall, the proposed 2009-11 budget would spend about $1 billion less than the current state spending plan, due to the dramatic decrease in tax collection as the recession deepens. The $1 billion decrease does not include the $3 billion in federal stimulus money the state will use to backfill the budget.

Compared to recent estimations printed following the Associated Student Government’s  “Budget Cut Student Forums”, these figures are becoming less hopeful than expected.

Gov. Gregoire’s original budget plan was drawn up when the predicted state deficit was $5.6 billion.  The College was expected to take cuts of 1.5 percent in 2010 and 2011. When added to the 4.1 percent budget cuts in 2009, the cuts would have totalled over $2.5 million through the 2011 fiscal year. However, in early March, the state’s deficit was estimated to rise to $7 billion between 2009 to 2011 in the budget cycle. The ASG anticipated 5 percent cuts in state funding for the college during that time. This loss for BC now equates to cuts of over $5.1 million.

From these expected losses and increases in budget cuts, ASG President Amanda Alva reportedly said in the March 10 issue of this publication that half of BC’s budget goes to instruction, making it an attractive place to cut expenses. That means the majority of cuts will rely on this pot of money rather than being separated out and taking from areas of the school that are already hurting in expenses.

With word of these new figures, the ASG encourages students to move beyond being informed to becoming involved.

Concerned students are advised to write or email state legislators.