Washington Senate leaders are proposing a new tax on international students to help pay for higher education, but university officials say the fee is so high it could drive away students and hurt the schools' budgets and their diversity.
Senate leaders say the proposed 20 percent surcharge on international students could raise as much as $50 million over two years, The Seattle Times reported ( http://is.gd/YUeNBt) Friday.
At Washington's four-year schools, out-of-state and international students currently pay the same tuition, which is about three times what an in-state student pays, and they already help subsidize in-state students.
"The kid from Idaho, his parents have been paying federal taxes for years, so there should be a difference between what the kid from Idaho pays and what the kid from Taipei pays," said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Mercer Island. He noted the University of Washington receives about $1.2 billion a year in federal grants.
But universities say the fee is so high that it would drive away international students, leading to a loss of revenue _ not an increase.
The fee "would make us seriously noncompetitive in the marketplace," UW spokesman Norm Arkans said.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard added the proposal "simply will not work."
"A further 20 percent tax will drive away numbers of current foreign students, creating a hole in budget revenues that will actually be larger than the unrealizable $60M," he Shepard in a statement.
Only a handful of state universities nationwide levy a surcharge on international students. The University of Illinois recently began charging an extra $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the program.
Purdue University last year added a $2,000-a-year international fee, which prompted demonstrations in February by Chinese students at the school.
Tom said he wasn't bothered that so few other state universities levy a surcharge. "Sometimes you need to be a leader," he said.
Washington's community colleges already charge a higher rate for international students _ about $10,000 for three quarters, including fees. In-state students pay about $4,400.
At the UW, the bill, SB 5893, would increase undergraduate tuition for international students by about $6,000 _ to $35,000 a year.
Measure co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Bailey doesn't think the extra charge would affect enrollment because Washington schools are so well-regarded internationally.
"Most of our foreign students are not particularly low-income; they have means, and I think they will come, regardless," the Oak Harbor Republican said.
The University of Washington's 6,000 international students apply to many schools around the country, and some do consider the UW a relative bargain compared with private schools like Harvard, said Era Schrepfer, executive director of the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students.
The independent, nonprofit organization on the UW campus works on building a global community in the Puget Sound region.
But Schrepfer also said UW international students come from families with a wide range of income levels, and many are under pressure to spend money wisely while they are here. Most of the students are from China, South Korea, Vietnam and other Pacific Rim nations.
"They already pay significantly more than state residents, and they're very, very aware of it," Schrepfer said.
A $6,000 increase in tuition might not seem like a big difference to some students, but "it's not a very friendly or welcoming position for our state to be in," she said.