By Zach Powers '10
PLU Marketing & Communications
Tacoma, Wash. (July 15, 2015)— After negotiations concluded and legislators from both sides of the aisle reached agreements on an operating budget, transportation bond and a number of education issues, the third and final special session of the 2015 Washington Legislative Session, the longest in the state’s history, was adjourned last Friday.
Particularly significant to PLU and its students, the new budget will sustain funding of the State Need Grant program (SNG) for private university students.* The new budget ensures that, for the next several years, SNG awards for present and incoming Lutes will be the same dollar amount as the 2014-15 academic year.
“PLU currently enrolls more than 600 students (more than 20 percent of students) who receive the grant, which amounts to more than $5 million in financial aid,” said PLU President Thomas W. Krise.
Students who attend private four-year universities and colleges are currently eligible to receive up to $8,517 in State Need Grant support.
The legislature’s support of SNG funding, as well as the maintained funding level of the College Bound program,** is the result of separate bills signed last week by Governor Jay Inslee.
Last Monday, Gov. Inslee signed Senate Bill 5954, mandating that public universities reduce their tuitions by 5 percent in the 2016-17 budget year and by double digits in 2017-18. This bill also affirmed the legislature’s intention not to cut funding to the SNG.***
Commensurate with these tuition decreases, SNG and College Bound program award levels will decrease for students attending public colleges in two years.
Throughout the legislative session, PLU actively voiced its policy hopes and concerns in unison with fellow members of the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW). An association of 10 private, nonprofit liberal arts colleges in Washington, ICW led member institutions in a variety of lobbying efforts, sharing with legislators how effective ICW colleges are at educating students and the great bargain the institutions represent to the state.
For much of the legislative session, SNG funding was in the crosshairs of lawmakers who sought dramatic cuts to public university tuition at the expense of up to a 25 percent reduction in SNG funding. Other lawmakers spent much of the session attempting to build bipartisan support for a different bill that would have increased funding to the SNG program.
In the end, a legislative compromise was reached that maintained SNG funding and also included reductions to the tuitions of public colleges and universities.
*”Changes made to the State Need Grant program in the 2011-2013 fiscal biennium are continued in the 2015-2017 fiscal biennium. For the 2015-2017 fiscal biennium, awards given to private institutions shall be the same amount as the prior year.” -Section 613 of the 2015-2017 Operating Budget.
**”For students attending private four-year institutions of higher education in Washington, the award amount shall be the representative average of awards granted to students in public research universities in Washington or the representative average of awards granted to students in public research universities in Washington in the 2014-15 academic year, whichever is greater.” Senate Bill 5954
***“The legislature does not intend to reduce award levels for private colleges and universities below the 2014-15 academic year levels. By reducing the overall cost of tuition, the legislature in future biennia is better able and intends to serve those students currently eligible but unserved in the state need grant.” -Senate Bill 5954
Other Bills of Note From the 2015 Legislative Session
SSB 5518: Creates procedures to address campus sexual violence that apply to public colleges and requires private colleges to discuss with their local police agency how responses to campus sexual violence will be handled and report back to the legislature about those discussions and any agreements that might be defined.
SSB 5719: Creates a task force on campus sexual violence prevention to study the issue, generate ideas about best practices and report back to the legislature.
SHB 1138: Creates a joint legislative task force on mental health and suicide prevention in higher education to study the issue (including prevention strategies) and make recommendations to the legislature.
2SSB 5851: Implements several of the recommendations proposed by last year’s college bound scholarship program work group.
SSB 5534: Creates and provides funding for a new scholarship program for students working toward becoming a certified public accountant.
SB 5638: Makes part time students (3 semester credits or more) who are otherwise eligible to receive a State Need Grant now eligible to receive a grant.