Tinkering with GET a Band-Aid for higher ed

Lawmakers must establish dedicated revenue to provide adequate subsidy for public education.

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The rapid rate at which tuition at state colleges and universities has gone up in recent years has made it difficult for students and their parents to pay for college.

Ironically, the increase of 14 percent a year has also pinched the state-sponsored Guaranteed Education Tuition program, which lets parents buy credits for future tuition at today's prices. The money collected by the state isn't enough to cover future tuition. GET is now underfunded by $631 million.

Parents who saved for college over the last decade are in the same situation. The returns on investments have lagged in the midst of the Great Recession while tuition has increased well beyond what anybody could have imagined just a few years ago.

Parents and students have had to take out much larger loans than they anticipated.

At this point, with the state budget still in need of trimming so revenues and expenses match, lawmakers are looking at changing the GET program to get it back in the black.

On Tuesday, politicians, attorneys, policy wonks, higher-education officials and the state actuary got together to look at different ways to eliminate the red ink from GET, according to The Seattle Times.

The legislative committee is also trying to figure out how to mesh the GET program with a plan for public universities to charge higher tuition rates for popular programs such as engineering.

Among the possible solutions are replacing GET with a less-generous GET 2, which would be tied to the average cost of tuition. Those already in GET would be allowed to pay the base tuition price for all courses, including those with a higher price tag. These are reasonable options.

But those moves are just a Band-Aid. Tinkering with GET isn't going to ensure all have access to a public higher education.

We continue to believe lawmakers should not have cut higher education this deeply, even if the result was eliminating some valuable programs elsewhere. Education, at all levels, is among the top priorities of state government.

The huge increase in tuition has caused personal stress and financial strain for middle-class families across the state. It's already making college unaffordable for some and creating mountains of debt for others. The problem will grow worse with each increase.

Lawmakers must focus their energy on establishing a dedicated source or sources of revenue to ensure the state provides an adequate subsidy to keep tuition costs down so all qualified Washingtonians have the opportunity to obtain a university or college education.

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