Inslee releases plan for higher education

Inslee releases plan for higher education
In this photo taken Feb. 6, 2102, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., speaks at a manufacturing facility in Seattle, Wash. Democratic officials said Saturday, March 10, 2012, that eight-term veteran Inslee intends to resign from Congress to focus full time on running for governor of Washington state this fall. Washington's Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire is retiring at the end of her term, and Inslee has long been rumored as a Democratic contender to replace her. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) - To improve higher education, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee wants to cap a state-backed student loan at a 3 percent interest rate, expand online courses to aid people who dropped out of college and increase partnerships with the state's premier private colleges.

But like Republican candidate Rob McKenna, Inslee does not provide a clear way to pay for his ideas, only suggesting that as the state budget improves, so would funding for higher education.

"Increase state funding for higher education as we grow the economy and revenue becomes available, and stop reliance on tuition increased," the plan states.

Inslee's camp released his education plan shortly before he faced McKenna in the first debate of the governor's race on Tuesday. In that debate in Spokane, both men agreed on the need to spend more money on higher education to reduce tuition costs to students.

"A lot of these (ideas) are about holding the line on any further cuts for our institutions," said Jamie Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee's campaign.

Smith said Inslee is keen on tracking student movement through the state's education system and wants to give universities more freedom to commercialize products they developed.

McKenna said in February that he's elected governor he would work to restore state dollars for higher education, with a goal of having in-state students pay half the cost of their education at our universities and the state pick up the rest of the cost — after the recession.

"If you're going to wait this long, you expect to be wowed by it," said McKenna campaign spokesman Charles McCray. "I don't see anything of note in the plan. The one thing is worth mentioning is work force development. That's great and we're glad to see that. But that basically came out of Rob's higher education plan."

Lawmakers in Olympia have used drastic cuts to the state's contribution to higher education to help balance their spending sheet. State contribution to higher education is at percentage levels not seen since the 1980s.

Inslee wants to expand online courses for people who dropped out of college saying that there are 950,000 people between 25 and 64 years old with a partial college education. He said the online option provides a more affordable way to complete college.

The former congressman also wants to cap state-backed student loans at a 3 percent interest rate under a program that only exists in writing at the moment. The Higher Education Loan Program only exists in the books, the plan says. He also wants to protect the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, in which parents can buy college credits for their children way before they start college. The plan also calls for improved financial counseling.

His plan also wants increased partnerships with many of the state's private colleges — like Gonzaga University or Seattle Pacific University — to grow the number of people with degrees in "high-demand" fields like nursing and engineering. The plan, though, doesn't say what kind of increased collaboration that would entail.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.