Computer Science Tuition Could Rise Faster than Other Degrees Under New WA Rules

6/8/11Follow @curtwoodward

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research universities now charge different tuition rates for at least one undergraduate program.

Higher tuition has become increasingly necessary in Washington because of massive dropoffs in state tax collections following the Great Recession. Voters, hit hard in the pocketbook, have effectively taken tax increases off the table as a solution, including the rejection last fall of a proposed income tax on the wealthy that would have sent more money to education.

That means more user fees, for everything from state parks to college degrees. As this extremely detailed UW policy brief on the topic points out, “as the price of attendance continues to rise and employment prospects diverge, targeting incremental tuition increases based on programs may be more reasonable than spreading the increase evenly across all students.”

Under the state budget recently approved by lawmakers, higher tuition rates help offset the cut in state spending so that higher education funding is only about 2 percent below the level expected to maintain current services. That means drastic steps, like the elimination of whole programs, probably aren’t on the table, as was feared earlier this year by Western Washington University’s computer science department.

“Western will not be eliminating the computer science department during this budget cycle,” says Paul Cocke, the school’s communications director. “Western’s provost is hoping the computer science department will continue working on an ambitious program on how the department can best met the needs of the state.” (Full disclosure: Last year, I wrote this freelance article for the school’s official magazine, for which I was paid.)

The freedom to set tuition comes with strings attached from the state. If any school sets tuition above the 16 percent annual increase foreseen in the budget, it is obligated to also increase the amount of financial aid it provides for students. Annual performance reports are also required from schools, on topics including student debt load and the number of students in science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

“The era of a student showing up, registering for a class on Sept. 1st and, regardless of whether they finish the year or graduate, the university gets a big check and is happy and done—those days are over,” Carlyle says. “There is very real accountability in this legislation that the institutions will struggle to meet.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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  • TRB

    We already have plenty of “soft” graduates in the UK. Most of them are unemployed and live off state benefits – or work in supermarkets. Don’t give the next generation another incentive… If anything, scolarships should be given to engineering, medical, scientific, mathematical students – they generate real value.

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