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Historical Overview

1977-1995 - Legislature Links Tuition Rates to the Cost of Instruction

Between 1977 and 1995, the Legislature established tuition rates as a percentage of the cost of instruction.  In 1977, when this approach was enacted by the Legislature, a Carnegie Commission study determined that tuition covered 24 percent of the cost of instruction at public higher education institutions on average nationally.  The Commission recommended that this approach be increased to 33 percent within 10 years.

Under this "cost-sharing" approach, the student contributed a portion of the cost and the state provided the remainder.  Cost-sharing assumes that both the student and society benefit from having an educated and productive citizenry.

To determine undergraduate and graduate instructional costs, the Legislature directed the Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop and perform a cost study every four years.  Using cost study data, the HECB transmitted to the institutions the cost basis on which tuition would be established.

1995-1999 - Legislature Sets Tuition in Statute

In 1995, the Legislature removed the direct link to the cost of instruction and instead set tuition in statute as dollar amounts for each public institution.  Although 1995 legislative intent stated that the tuition increases in1995-96 and 1996-97 were a "transition measure until final action is taken in 1997," the practice of specifying dollar amounts was continued through the 1997-1999 biennium.

Tuition amounts (or percentage increases) specified in statute have referred only to the "tuition" portion of tuition and fees.  Additional fees - i.e., services and activities fees and technology fees - may be assessed.  State statutes establish maximum amounts that can be charged for these additional fees; which vary by institution.

1999-2002 - Legislature Gives Limited Tuition Setting Authority to Institutions

For the 2000-2001 academic year the Legislature gave institutions limited local tuition-setting authority for the first time.  This included maximums set by the Legislature and the Governor.  The 1999-2001 operating budget provided that tuition could be increased by the institutions by no more than 4.6 percent in the 1999-2000 academic year and no more than 3.6 percent in the 2000-01 academic year.

The Legislature and Governor continued to give institutions limited local tuition-setting authority in academic year 2001-02, with tuition increases authorized up to 6.7 percent. However, maximum tuition increases for graduate programs of law and business were set at 12 percent, and the University of Washington was allowed to increase tuition up to 15 percent for its graduate business programs.

2002-2005 - Restrictions in Tuition Setting Authority for Resident Undergraduates

Institutions were allowed specified maximum percentage increases (above the prior year’s tuition) for resident undergraduates, as follows:

  • Research Universities (UW and WSU) - 16 percent
  • Comprehensive Institutions (CWU, EWU, TESC, WWU) - 14 percent
  • Community Colleges - 12 percent

These increases were among the highest for any year in the previous decade. In all cases, institutions found it necessary to raise tuition to the allowable maximum. For other student categories – graduate and professional students and all nonresident students – no maximum was placed on allowable tuition increases. In 2002-03, Washington’s community colleges changed the basis of tuition from a full-time/ part-time basis to a per-credit hour base.

For six years (2003-04 through 2008-09), institutions could reduce or increase full-time tuition for all students except resident undergraduates.  For resident undergraduates, the 2003 budget specified an increase no greater than 7 percent in academic years 2003-04 and 2004-05 at both four-year institutions and community colleges.

2005-2011 - Limited Tuition Setting Authority for Resident Undergraduates, Other Categories Unlimited

The 2005-07 biennium budget specified an increase of no greater than 7 percent for each year at research universities, 6 percent at comprehensive institutions, and 5 percent at community and technical colleges. As specified in the 2007-09 budget, institutions continued to have unlimited tuition-setting authority for all other student tuition categories through 2008-09.

Beginning with the 2007-08 academic year and ending with the 2016-17 academic year, tuition fees charged to full-time resident undergraduate students could increase no greater than 7 percent over the previous academic year in any institution of higher education. Annual reductions or increases in full-time tuition fees for resident undergraduate students must be as provided in the omnibus appropriations act, within the 7 percent increase limit.

2011-12 - Authority Granted to Raise Tuition

For academic year 2011-12, institutions of higher education were granted authority to raise tuition beyond the level set in the Omnibus Appropriations Act (RCW 28B. 15. 068)

For the 2013-15 biennium, the Legislature and Governor allow intuitions of higher education tuition setting authority; however, those institutions that raise tuition fees beyond the increase outlined in the omnibus are required to set aside 5% in financial aid.

2013-14 - Tuition Setting Authority Removed

For FY 2015, the Legislature and Governor remove tuition setting authority for resident undergraduates during the 2013-14 supplemental session.

2014-Present - State Pays Back Revenue Lost with State Appropriations

For the first time in Washington State history, the Legislature and Governor signed into law Sentate bill 5954 which reduces the operating fee component of tuition at WWU by 5% in 2015-16 and 15% in 2016-17. The bill requires the State to backfill operating fee revenue lost with state appropriations.