President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 5/13/2011

On Setting Tuition


This week, the Legislature passed a bill granting tuition-setting authority to the governing boards of Washington's public universities. Governor Chris Gregoire has indicated that she will sign the legislation.


Along with granting tuition-setting authority for the next four years, the bill establishes certain performance benchmarks that universities must meet and increases the amounts that universities must make available for financial aid. It also gives universities the discretion to adopt differential tuition, which could result in different undergraduate tuition rates for different programs or campuses.


As you probably know, I have long been an advocate of allowing public universities in Washington to establish their tuition rates, as is done in most other states.


While I don't doubt the intentions or the interest of state lawmakers in regard to tuition-setting, they have a vast array of issues with which to contend in every session. Establishing levels of tuition is a primary duty of college administrators and governing boards; they inevitably will be in a better position to understand the unique needs of their institutions than legislators can.


Universities also have a long history of shared governance, by which we involve faculty, staff and students in making decisions that are central to each university's mission.  Our process at WSU will proceed in that spirit during the tuition discussions on all of our campuses.


Admittedly, the timing of the passage of this bill poses some challenges. This week's commencement ceremonies in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities complete WSU's spring semester university-wide; many of our students and faculty have left our campuses. And the Legislature still has yet to complete work on the budget for the 2011-13 biennium, which begins July 1.


Although we cannot be certain of the precise numbers that will be included in the final budget, we do know the parameters within which our budget allocation is likely to fall. Given the urgency of the tuition decision, we must move forward with the planning process.


I have asked Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick M. Bayly and the chancellors of our Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver campuses to work with our university Budget Office to come up with tuition recommendations for our four campuses.


Those discussions will continue next week, with a goal of having a tuition recommendation to me by May 23. That recommendation will be released on May 24. We will then gather input - both on-line and in public meetings - from May 24-31. We have tentatively scheduled a special regents meeting for May 31 to finalize the recommendation.


Clearly, under different circumstances, we would have adopted a process that would have taken place during the regular academic year and that would have provided a wider window for public input. However, even in the current situation, we remain committed to our principles of shared governance and thoughtful decision-making.


I will continue to provide updates to you - through this column and other means - as this process moves forward.


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