New legislation supported by WSU would require the Office of Financial Management to communicate the maximum allowable increase in tuition under state law to public higher education institutions by October 1st of each year for the following academic year, allowing them to set tuition rates sooner and provide certainty to students.

The Senate Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development heard Senate Bill 5079 on Wednesday. It now awaits a committee vote.

The state’s tuition policy was changed in 2015 to restrict growth to the 14-year-rolling average of median wage growth in Washington, the first of several affordability initiatives undertaken by the Legislature since. As a result, tuition increases at WSU have never exceeded 2.5 percent since. Council of Presidents Interim Executive Director Ruben Flores told the committee that, currently, the maximum allowable tuition rate is not released until May of each year. Higher education institutions then set tuition, just a few months prior to the new academic year. If adopted, this bill would provide the opportunity for institutions to set tuition much further in advance. This would allow WSU to present students and prospective students with financial aid packages and a total price even sooner, possibly reducing a barrier for families weighing the merits of a college education.

ASWSU Director of Legislative Affairs, Collin Bannister also testified in support of this bill, noting the change in deadline will allow students to plan their higher education pathway near the start of the senior year in high school – before college applications are due.

Data show that affordability metrics at WSU have improved notably since 2014. Still, this redounds only to the benefit of those who pursue a WSU education in the first place. In the meantime, the Washington College Grant — the state’s primary tool for providing access for low-income students — remains undersubscribed.