Don't turn GET program into a bait and switch

February 3, 2012 

Washington families that are counting on the GET program to pay for college, may not get what they thought they were getting when they signed up.

Guaranteed Education Tuition allows families to buy credits for future tuition. One hundred GET credits equals one year of tuition at the state school of your choice -- assuming you get admitted.

The idea is for parents to start planning for college early and buy credits over time so that when their baby leaves the nest, he can fly right on over to a state school.

It's the prepay plan and it's a pretty good deal given the rising cost of education.

A family can start saving before the future student is even born.

Ah, but here is the potential twist. Last year, the Legislature agreed to let universities charge more for some degrees than others.

This could leave some families that thought they had college all planned for still needing to come up with extra money.

Should the family that was careful and planned ahead have to pay more for an engineering degree than an English one?

We think not!

This is from the state's GET web page. "The state guarantees that if you buy 100 units today, your 100 units will be worth the actual cost of one academic year of resident undergraduate tuition and state-mandated fees at the most expensive Washington public university when your child enrolls in college, regardless of how much tuition has increased over time."

We're pretty sure that was written before the idea of a sliding-fee scale became a possibility.

Not only will 100 GET credits pay for one year of undergraduate education at the state's most expensive school, students can also take those 100 credits to a less expensive school and get help with books, housing and other costs.

It seems really unfair, although probably legal if you read the fine print, to make that change.

On the other side of the equation, something has to be done about the cost of getting an education.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, is on the road talking to editorial boards about his plan to make higher education the state's No. 2 priority, right behind K-12, and provide a constitutionally mandated funding stream.

We aren't especially excited about the idea of messing with the state constitution.

But we do like first off that he has a plan, second that he's actively talking about his plan and third that he was a funding mechanism in his proposal.

We agree with Baumgartner that education leads to jobs. And more and better jobs will help to grow the economy.

We need more people talking about education and how to make it happen. And any proposal, from education to social services, that is proposed needs to have a financing plan attached to it.

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