State proposes surcharge for international students

Community colleges and universities in Washington state have been subjected to a proposed bill that would increase tuition cost for international students by 20 percent. They seek to raise revenues, predicting to wreak nearly $60 million over a span of two years. The surcharge was proposed in the Washington state Senate’s biennial budget, but has not yet been approved or voted upon.

“Originally the surcharge actually came out at the beginning of the legislative session. It wasn’t necessarily the twenty percent surcharge, but it was still of the same nature,” said Kristin Velez, Legislative Director of the Office of Student Legislative Affairs. “It showed up in the higher education committee as a draft, and then it was retracted, so when it came back out it was intended to go into the general fund so it actually is no longer even tied to higher education.” The current proposal is being objected by many residents, and may be sent back again if enough protest is sent. Student involvement is vital to refuting proposals such as this, and by going to the legislative website, students can contact their regional legislators and senators; “you can message the governor; he actually has someone specific who has to deal with all of our lovely messages about higher education. But primarily, it’s going to be the senators that you want to contact, because this was something that was proposed on the senate side,” Velez informed.

The surcharge proposal started out as something that was to be funding the Guaranteed Education Tuition program.  The GET program lets students buy education credits, which will then allow the “government to pay for your tuition for a higher education,” Velez explained. This in no longer the case; that initial proposal has morphed into something that affects international student specifically. “On a purely fiscal note, it doesn’t make sense considering we depend so heavily on international student tuition.”

Velez opposes the proposition and predicts that if the proposition passes, international students will consider other states to be the superior options. This means BC will “be losing that diversity on our campus, but we’re not going to even be getting the revenue.” Basically, “they’re trying to basically take it out of the pockets of students.” Thuy Ngoc Pham, Organizing Director of the OSLA, and an international student herself, addressed the fact that the average international student in Washington state “will have to work extra hard in order to get enough money just to put themselves through school.”

The OSLA has been working against this proposition. Velez said they have been “advocating with legislators,” and “[rallying] support amongst the community and technical colleges on a more unofficial basis, so just personally contacting them.” Students see this proposition as something personal; it revolves around international students, and may deter their ability to enroll into Washington state higher education programs because of monetary drawbacks. Pham believes this proposition is wrong, and proclaims that the OSLA will continue to “fight for our student interests.” Velez added, “We also just signed a petition with 2300 people,” which wasn’t exclusively addressing the surcharge, “it was addressing a higher education friendly budget,” which states that “we cannot be balancing the budget on the backs of students.” Pham reinstates, “the degree [international students] earn in America will help them change their lives in the future,” and if this proposition is passed, Washington state will no longer play a notable role in shaping the lives of international students through higher education.