TACOMA – In the summer of 2015, the College Affordability Program was signed into law. The program would cut tuition at all of Washington’s public colleges and universities over the next two years. Four-year schools would see tuition cut by 15-20 percent, and Washington’s 34 two-year schools would see tuition drop by 5 percent.
This was a great step, lawmakers acknowledged at a recent breakfast hosted by Tacoma Community College, but more needs to be done to continue to make college affordable and accessible for students. However, they cautioned, with the upcoming 2016 Legislature session, many other issues will be competing for attention, such as wildfire and mental health services funding.
“It will be a super tough year,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins. “Revenues and the economy are recovering. We are starting off the session with a high amount of caseloads.”
However, lawmakers agree college affordability is critical. Tacoma Community College student leaders Jenna Jones (President of the Associated Student Body of TCC) and Samarri Williams (Vice President of Legislation and Records) outlined what they will focus on in the upcoming session: redefine basic education for adults; improve textbook affordability; provide EBT on campus; and build TCC’s post-secondary education program with inmates.
Lawmakers endorsed their recommendations and added their own wish list: free community college for qualified students; more help for veterans to transition to college; and better corporate partnerships with tuition funding programs.
“We will continue to take an aggressive approach,” said Rep. Hans Zeiger.
TCC is a leader in providing free online resources to advance college affordability (Open Education Resources), said Dr. Tod Treat, Executive Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs.
“Our faculty is committed to this program,” he said. “We fund it locally. To date, we have saved students $1.2 million in textbook costs.”
TCC’s women’s corrections programs offer inmates basic skills and professional-technical programs. Through a partnership between the college and the Freedom Education Program Puget Sound (FEPPS), TCC is able to grant credit for transfer courses. Support by the state for transfer programs is critical for ensuring the future success of released inmates, Dr. Treat said.
The conversation steered back to affordable college costs. The 2015 College Affordability Program was a step in the right direction. But, there are bigger trends looming, such as the recent national effort to offer free community college tuition for qualified students.
“We would love to see a bill that would provide free tuition for two-year colleges,” said Williams, a pre-med student. “That would be advantageous.”