Washington’s public university presidents, including Central Washington University’s Jim Gaudino, are offering a compromise with the state Legislature over higher education funding, proposing to freeze tuition for two years in exchange for $225 million toward university budgets.

“Like other institutions, we are very concerned about the effect raising tuition has on our students, and it is the only weapon, if you will, that the Legislature has left us against $60 million in budget cuts,” CWU Public Affairs Director Linda Schactler said.

Should the Legislature bite, it could mean $15.2 million more for Central Washington University.

The proposal comes shortly after outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget set a goal of no tuition increases while including no additional money for the state’s public universities.

That budget was “full of assumptions that are not likely to happen,” state Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Seattle Times.

“Do I think it will be difficult to find $225 million? Yes,” Hunter said. “But can we continue to do this long-term destruction of the higher-ed system? No.”

Nearly 70 percent of funding for Washington’s universities comes from tuition and 30 percent from the state budget. The state budgeted about $1 billion for the six, four-year schools for 2011-13, according to the Associated Press, about the same amount budgeted for higher education in 1989-91. An extra $225 million in cash would bring the state contribution to about what it was in 2009.

The state already is predicting a $900 million shortfall for the next two-year budget, and a state Supreme Court ruling concerning money for the state’s K-12 education system will force the Legislature to find an estimated $1 billion to invest in public schools during this session.

Washington schools have raised tuition by double-digit amounts each year over the past two biennia. 

Schactler said, as far as she knew, neither the school nor the university presidents’ group has heard any feedback from lawmakers about the offer, but she said some might be receptive.

“I think the legislative leaders are beginning to be very concerned about the continued erosion of public universities,” she said.

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