Washington's Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program has proved to be a godsend for thousands of middle-class families.
GET is a prepaid tuition plan that enables families to buy their children college credits at today's prices, plus a premium, and then cash out in the future, tax-free, at the value of the tuition and fees at Washington State's most expensive university. Admittedly, it's not a particularly great deal at the moment: Recent tuition spikes have forced GET to charge a 39 percent markup over the University of Washington's current $12,383 tuition and fees. Many other financial instruments promise a higher rate of return.
But what GET buys participants—what no other college savings plan can possibly offer—is peace of mind. As its name implies, GET is guaranteed: "With a college savings plan," the GET website explains, "you shoulder all of the investment risk and worries associated with volatile financial markets. With GET, the state assumes the investment risk so you don't have to worry."
In that sense, GET is more of a college insurance plan than it is an investment. Families buy into the program knowing they can likely get a better return on investment elsewhere—but no other investment guarantees that their children will get the college education they're paying for, regardless of market fluctuations and state budget turmoil.
But lawmakers don't seem to get GET.
"We don't need to be in that business," state senator Rodney Tom (R-Medina) insisted about the program while speaking at a January 10 Associated Press forum in Olympia. It was a sentiment with which Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) and Representative Ross Hunter (D-Medina) later agreed. That's three lawmakers from two of the wealthiest zip codes in the state dissing a program that has been a boon for the real middle-class families statewide.
Talk about being out of touch.
Lawmakers instead appear eager to implement "differential tuition" pricing, permitting universities to charge more for certain majors, like engineering and business management.
But while wealthy lawmakers like Tom, Litzow, and Hunter may not worry about how they'll afford to send their own children to college, many middle-class Washington families do. And eliminating GET would eliminate the one program that enables these families to securely plan for their children's future.