Majority Coalition Caucus introduces higher education plan

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus on Tuesday unveiled a comprehensive plan that would bring down the costs of higher education for students, increase state spending on public universities and community colleges and tie additional funding to higher-education institutions’ performance, according to the majority caucus.

“In the past decade, college students have been hit over and over with increasing tuition costs as a result of decreasing state support,” Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said. “If our state is going to be a competitor in the global economy, we have to stop expanding government on the backs of college students and start reinvesting in higher education.”

According to the caucus, the “Ten-Three-Fifty” plan would:

• Increase state funding in public universities and community colleges by 10 percent, or by more than $300 million to a level of $3 billion for the 2013-2015 biennium.

• Immediately reduce the cost of in-state tuition by 3 percent.

• Allocate $50 million in new performance funding for four-year colleges based on specific metrics: the number of undergraduate high-demand STEM degrees; the average time it takes to complete an undergraduate degree; freshman retention; low-income population; and space utilization.

• Expand the state need grant by 7 percent to serve an additional 4,600 students.

By lowering the cost of tuition, Baumgartner said, the proposal has the added benefit of eliminating the Guaranteed Education Tuition program’s $631 million unfunded liability, producing a surplus of $421 million.

Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said the state has been going in the wrong direction for many years by making higher education unaffordable for students and families.