PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University students, faculty and staff throughout the system took time today to comment about the university’s budget and tuition increases being considered by Board of Regents members and administrators.

During a two-hour hearing over the Washington Higher Education Telecommunications System, regents on each of the four WSU campuses heard many times the need to maintain quality, yet meet the needs of programs that are in demand by today’s students.

WSU President V. Lane Rawlins said the 2003 legislature from the start expected to cut university budgets and authorized tuition increases to partially offset the cuts. Lawmakers recently passed a bill to give more authority to WSU’s governing board by providing regents the authority to set tuition increases for everyone but resident undergraduate students. The bill awaits Gov. Gary Locke’s signature.

The legislative session is now in a two-week recess before starting a special session on May 12. Legislative leaders are working to find compromise on the budget proposals from both houses to present to the special session.

Rawlins said major budget concerns that have received no attention from lawmakers are unfunded costs, including increases for utilities, library materials, salary increases for promotions and support for institutional priorities.

Tuition has been used to make up an increased percentage of the cost for instruction over the last three decades. For the 1975-80 biennia, tuition was set in statute at 25 percent of the cost of instruction for resident undergraduates. For 1981-92, the percentage increased to 33.3 percent. For 1992-95 statute adjusted to higher percentages. Tuition was set in the budget for the 1995-99 biennia, and for 1999-2003, limited tuition setting authority was given to the Board of Regents. After 2004, observers predict that tuition will amount to more than 50 percent of the cost of instruction.

Under the Senate budget proposal, cuts and unfunded costs total some $34.7 million for WSU. The university estimates this would be made up in part by tuition increases totaling $17.5 million, but a $17.2 million shortfall still exists.

The House budget would reduce the university’s operating budget and leave unfunded about $19.1 million. WSU officials estimate the House’s tuition proposal would provide $12.6 million, but still showing a $6.5 million shortfall for WSU.

Karl Boehmke, executive budget director, discussed the tuition proposals the two chambers recently passed. The Senate version would set a 9 percent tuition increase or $187 per semester for resident undergraduates. The proposal would put tuition at $2,259.50 per semester for 2003-04. The House version recommends a 6 percent increase ($123.50) for a total of $2,196 per semester.

For nonresident undergraduate tuition, the university is proposing an increase of 5 percent, a $298.50 increase to $6,268 each semester.

Resident graduate student tuition would increase $57 or 2 percent to $2,938.50 each semester under the university’s proposal. Rawlins said the university depends on graduate students as teaching assistants for undergraduate programs. Nonresident graduate student tuition would also increase 2 percent — $145.50 – or $7,446.50 each semester.

Resident professional students in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and WWAMI (first year medical students) programs would see a 9 percent or $481.50 increase in tuition to $5,830.50 per semester in the Senate version. Under the House budget, the university proposes a 6 percent increase — $321 — for a per semester total of $5,670. For nonresidents in the programs, the university plans for a tuition increase of 6.7 percent or $902.50 for a total of $14,438.50 each semester. If the House budget prevails, the university plan calls for a 6 percent increase each semester or $812 for a semester total of $14,348.

Tuition rates for the professional Doctor of Pharmacy Program were increased significantly in 2002 to fund program improvements and will match the University of Washington’s new rate, the WSU president said. The increase a year ago is being phased in by granting waivers to existing students. Under the university’s plan, existing PharmD students would pay 6 percent more next year. Resident second year students would pay $3,862.50 each semester while third- and fourth-year students would pay $3,406.50. New resident PharmD students would pay the full tuition rate of $4,519.50 per semester as established a year ago. The new rate for nonresident students in the PharmD program would be $8,937.50, an increase of $199.50 or 2 percent.

The university also proposes a new fee category for nonresident Distance Degree Programs students. Fulltime undergraduates would pay $3,389 while the graduate fees would be $4,408 under the Senate proposal. Under the House budget, the university proposes undergraduate rates of $3,294 while graduate students would pay $4,408.

Students in the Masters of Nursing program would see a tuition increase of 13.8 percent to $4,280 per semester for residents and $8,142, an increase of 11.5 percent for nonresidents. The new rates recognize the high cost of running the professional program, Boehmke said.

Tuition rates are increasing rapidly nationwide, the president said. WSU’s tuition rates continue to be less than many of its peers. Its graduate tuition averages higher.

“College tuition is still among the best investment an individual can make,” Boehmke said. “Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn 61 percent more than those with only a high school diploma.” The earnings increase and the percent difference also grows with more advanced degrees.

The regents will be taking written comments on the tuition proposals until Monday, May 5. Comments can be sent via e-mail to Public_comment@wsu.edu.