Local Briefs

Schulz

The Washington State University Board of Regents on Friday approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase for the coming year, which is the maximum lift allowed by the state Legislature.

The increase will amount to a $249 rise for in-state undergraduate tuition, to about $10,200 a year. The maximum tuition rate increase allowed in the state of Washington is tied to the growth rate of the median hourly wage in the state. This is the fourth year in a row WSU has elected to raise tuition by the maximum allowed amount.

The higher annual cost is mostly expected to offset raises in minimum wage and other personnel compensation, according to WSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Stacy Pearson.

Earlier this month, state leaders told WSU to expect a 15 percent drop in state support for the coming year — amounting to about a 10 percent drop in total revenues for the university, or a loss of about $37 million. If the board had declined to approve the tuition increase, Pearson said that would have added another $4 million to $6 million to that drop.

“(We would) have to cobble together some funding in order to be able to cover those expenses or the other option is just further reductions in other areas of the operating budget,” Pearson said. “It’s as you might expect, not having that additional revenue means we go to more cuts or looking for additional revenue.”

Most undergraduate and graduate-level students will have their tuition raised by 2.5 percent. Tuition for some WSU students will not be raised at all, while others will see a yet more significant rise. Tuition for master’s level nursing and athletic training students will remain the same, as it will for those pursuing a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Meanwhile, nonresident pharmacy students will see their tuition increase by 5.2 percent and resident tuition in that program will rise by 9 percent.

Some pharmacy students objected, saying financial upheaval related to the pandemic has put them in a poor position to absorb the higher cost. Pharmacy student Kennedy Erickson told the board she and many of her peers are struggling to understand the increase at a time when they will return in the fall to uniformly online courses and diminished access to university resources like printing stations, Wi-Fi and community outreach events.

“In addition, despite the hard work our faculty have put into converting their classes into a virtual format at the last minute, the quality of the education is just not the same as if it were in person,” Erickson said. “We would like the university to consider that when deciding an increase in tuition.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz said he is sympathetic to the uncertain fiscal futures facing many students and their families, but increases in tuition are necessary for the school to weather the economic storm created by COVID-19. He said it will take responsible financial planning for WSU to find its footing on the other side of this crisis.

“This is a two- to three-year issue and I got a feeling that we’re going to do this cut and then next year, we’re going to fight like hell with the Legislature, but we’re going to have another whack that we’re going to have to take,” Schulz said. “Anything that you look at after this and say ‘Well maybe they could do a bit more,’ — unfortunately, I think we’re going to have that opportunity whether we want to or not.”

In other board business, regents voted to extend Schulz’s contract another five years. He said transparency of university finances has been a hallmark of his tenure as president and that will continue to be the case.

Scott Jackson can be reached by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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