OLYMPIA -- Students from Washington State University Tri-Cities sat down with lawmakers Monday to share stories about the affects of rising tuition.
Zach Garland, one of the 14 students, is studying pre-nursing. His parents -- one out of work and the other a nurse -- are supporting him and two siblings in college.
Niki Shering, a psychology major, wants to find a cure for schizophrenia, which a relative suffers from. Like many at the Tri-City campus, Shering is a nontraditional student. She is 33 and has four children.
Kelcey Brower, an accounting major, takes care of her three younger siblings with the help of a twin sister. Their father died of cancer in 2002 and their mother of breast cancer five years later. Brower works two jobs while going to school.
And the list of hardships goes on, said Shirah Thietje, director of legislative affairs for the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities.
"Yet everyone here found a way to fund their educations. They have options, for now. But just as many people don't have options," Thietje said.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, told the students that the House Republican operating budget proposed Friday will help students.
"You're talking to someone who is on your side," Klippert said.
The proposal does not require a tuition increase and maintains funding for the State Need Grants and state work-study programs.
House Democrats plan to release their budget this week.
But even if legislators don't enact a tuition increase, universities have the power to raise tuition. And it is expected to climb about 16 percent in 2012.
Another bill of student interest is Substitute Senate Bill 5217 to allow community colleges to appoint a student member to their board of trustees.
The House Committee on Higher Education, headed by Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, passed the bill Monday. It now needs the full House's approval to become a law.
Two other bills the students supported have not been as successful.
Senate Joint Resolution 8225 would amend the constitution to devote a portion of the retail sales tax for higher education. The bill never passed out of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
And House Bill 2745 and a companion senate bill to allow military veterans stationed out of state to qualify for in-state tuition also never passed out of a committee.
Klippert, who supported the measures, said, "If someone's going to protect the freedoms of our country by putting their life on the line, they should get in-state tuition."
Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, told the students not to get discouraged by this session.
"What you can't do today, tomorrow you could do it," Shin said.
Klippert asked the students to send him and other lawmakers ideas for bills for next session.
Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, told the students that eliminating unnecessary state spending will free up money for higher education. He pointed to a sign on his door that reads: Reform before Revenue.
Thietje told the Herald she was impressed by what she and the students learned from the lawmakers, especially Hewitt. He engaged the students by asking how they would prioritize the budget, so the students could understand the difficult choices lawmakers face.
-- Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.