Regents Discuss Tuition-Setting Authority

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s regents expressed concern Friday that transfer of tuition-setting authority from the Washington Legislature to institutional boards could lead to further erosion in the percentage of state funding for university operations.
A briefing on the WSU budget presented prior to the discussion showed that students pay 41 percent more in tuition and fees today than they did in 1988 while the university has just two percent more to spend on instruction, adjusted for inflation. That is the outcome of a decade of tuition increases averaging 7 percent annually, resulting in students’ tuition payments providing 18 percent of WSU’s budget today, compared to 7 percent 10 years ago.
“This is a very complicated issue,” Regent Dick Davis of Spokane said. If transferring tuition setting to the regents “results in a dollar for dollar offset of state dollars by tuition dollars, it is unacceptable.”
“On the one hand, it is logical for regents to have the responsibility to price our own products,” said Regent Richard Albrecht, Seattle. “On the other hand, we have seen an erosion of state support. We should not take on this authority without some clear assurances about the levels of state support and a mechanism for annual funding increases.”
Regent Ken Alhadeff, Seattle, said the board needs to do something “about the unacceptable level of support for faculty salaries. We, like you, President Smith, are very concerned about this issue.”
He noted that WSU faculty salaries, on average, are at the 17th percentile when compared to salaries at peer universities. Those peers are the land-grant universities with colleges of veterinary medicine.
In some proposals, tuition-setting authority is linked to WSU’s ability to increase faculty salaries at a higher percentage than the state salary pool for other employees. WSU faculty, unlike classified employees, do not receive regular increases for longevity.
Steve Wymer, president of the Associated Students of WSU, said, “I never want to see tuition go up. On the other hand, I can see that the 5 percent tuition increase isn’t enough to solve the faculty salary problem.”
The regents are expected to discuss the matter further at their next meeting on March 5.