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“The Impact”: College Promise Bill Debate; UW/WSU Campaign to Address Student Debt Fears

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

This week on “The Impact”:

Halfway through the second week of the 2019 Legislative Session, higher education proposals are in the spotlight.

Lawmakers are considering big changes to a program that helps students from less affluent families attain a college degree or certificate. The State Need Grant helps tens of thousands of students pay tuition at two or four year universities or community and technical colleges around the state, but thousands of eligible students are on a waiting list because of limited funding for the program.

Legislation requested by Governor Jay Inslee  would transform the State Need Grant program into the Washington College Promise Scholarship program and require that all eligible students receive financial aid.

“It’s a very successful financial aid program in our state, but unfortunately almost 20,000 kids qualify but don’t get the grant itself because we don’t fund it. So last year the legislature made a commitment to fund, fully fund it in four years and this bill actually makes it an entitlement so that in the future if you are eligible for this you guarantee yourself that you’re going to get the grant,” said Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby).

“I understand what you’re trying to do here makes a lot of sense for this group, but what we need is systemic reform. We need systemic reform where we go from about an 80% subsidy about 47 years ago and about 20% out of pocket, today it’s inverse where about 20% subsidy by the state, for the schools, 80% out of pocket costs to the students and their families, how do we reindex that to about the 50th percentile where the state kicks in for everybody and we reprioritize education,” said Sen. Jeff Holy (R-Cheney).

There’s also a bill to allow college athletes to be compensated. House Bill 1084, sponsored by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn), would make it a violation of the Washington State Consumer Protection Act to penalize students, teams, or universities in response to student-athlete compensation.

 “I think it’s high time that we had that conversation,” said Palumbo.

“I look at this and I think of all the potential collateral unintentional results,” said Holy.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and Washington State University President Kirk Schulz also traveled to Olympia this week. The football rivals have teamed up on a pro-college campaign aimed at addressing concerns related to student debt.

“You know we worry about the student who is picking up the paper and reading about how they can only go to college by getting into gazillions of dollars in debt and thinking this isn’t right for me. We’ve got some wonderful financial aid programs both at our individual universities and across the state that really makes it something that’s within their reach,” said Ana Mari Cauce, President, UW. “For example it’s often surprising to people that almost half of our students across the state who graduate with a bachelor’s degree, do so with no known debt because we have wonderful programs.”

“The key thing for young people out there is we want them to ahead, submit an application, let our financial aid professional’s work with their families to come up with good ways that they can afford public higher education degree in the state of Washington. Don’t listen to your friends. Don’t listen to somebody who doesn’t really know or some article that you read in the newspaper. Give our universities and the other, our other colleagues in the state, that chance, that opportunity to help out or work with families. Many times they leave excited and go ‘I never thought this was a possibility’,” said Kirk Schulz, President, WSU.

Cauce and Schulz are also asking the state for more funding to increase pay for faculty and staff by 4% in 2020 and another 4% in 2021.

“The post recession years have been good ones for the Washington economy, but we haven’t seen that at our universities meanwhile we are in the midst of replacing faculty that came here like I did thirty-two years ago and were able to buy a home for $100,000 or so with faculty that are coming into a much more expensive area. And it’s not just faculty, it’s also our IT workers, we need to give raises to our custodians. It’s all the way up and down,” said Cauce.

“Both of our universities have world class faculty that are of interest all around the country, all around the world, so we need to make sure that we keep our compensation up to keep the superbly talented faculty and staff that have decided to locate in Washington, we want them to not be leaving here because we haven’t been able to keep pace with salaries.

The UW and WSU presidents also weighed in on the bill to allow student athlete compensation.

“If we look at Washington State University the percentage of our students that go on to pay professional athletics is very small. The huge majority of our student-athletes are at our schools to compete athletically at an elite level and to get a college degree. And so I think when we talk about compensation we have to remember that scholarship is worth an awful lot of money,” said Schulz.

“I think it’s, that having it dealt with at the state level is just the wrong place. This is really an NCAA issue and it is being discussed at the NCAA,” said Cauce.                                                                                                “It’s not that I don’t think that these are issues that should be debated, but this has to be at the NCAA the state can’t make this fix.”

Stokesbary responds to potential criticism and defends his rationale for sponsoring the bill in a release on his legislative web page that includes the following:

 “The salaries of coaches, athletic directors, conference officials, and bowl officials are exploding, while networks shell out record amounts to schools and conferences for their broadcasting rights, and colleges and the NCAA sell more and more team merchandise. Yet, the athletes whose hard work creates this multi-billion dollar enterprise remain forbidden from receiving any compensation,” said Stokesbary.

“…while the value of an athlete’s scholarship is indeed tremendous, the value that many athletes contribute to the NCAA far exceeds their cost of tuition. It’s simply wrong for the NCAA to leverage the enormous value created by college athletes while systematically denying them the right to share in all the value they create for the NCAA and its member institutions,” said Stokesbary.

Other legislative topics we highlight this week include: a proposed statewide ban on plastic straw; a bill to phase out and ultimately ban studded tires; and bills to give tenants more time to plan before being evicted.

Click here to watch “The Impact” – January 23rd, 2019