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Originally published Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Some UW nursing students face 43% tuition increase

About three dozen students in the doctoral family-nurse-practitioner program at the University of Washington are facing a 43 percent tuition increase, after budget cuts led the UW to switch how it bills the program. Because of that change, some students also are losing an employee subsidy — resulting in a tenfold cost increase for them.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

Because she works 20 hours a week at Harborview Medical Center, graduate nursing student Gillian Ehrlich had been paying just $2,600 a year in tuition at the University of Washington.

Her tuition next year? $26,532.

Ehrlich is one of three dozen or so students in the doctoral family-nurse-practitioner program facing a 43 percent tuition increase after budget cuts led the UW to switch how it bills the program. Because of that change, Ehrlich also loses a UW employee subsidy — the UW runs Harborview — resulting in the tenfold cost increase.

Ehrlich and other students, who staged protests Friday, feel betrayed by what they say amounts to a bait-and-switch by the UW.

"It's a cost I had not planned for or anticipated. If I'd known about it, I probably would have gone somewhere else or not gone at all," said another student, Meredith Kriebel, who is facing a similar cost increase.

"Now, I don't have the choice of going to another school or doing another program. I have to finish, I can't go anywhere else. I have to do it here."

The three-year nurse-practitioner program allows its graduates to prescribe medicine, order tests and, in many cases, become primary-care providers — in short, to perform many of the tasks traditionally associated with doctors. The program is the top-ranked of its type in the country, and it is praised for the way it fills a need in family medicine and rural health care.

Beginning in the summer, tuition will be paid through UW Educational Outreach rather than the UW School of Nursing. Although the academics and oversight will remain the same, the billing change amounts to a quasi-privatization of the program. The result is that students must pay a larger share of the program's cost and no longer can claim a UW employee subsidy.

One big upside for the nursing school is that it will be able to keep the tuition money rather than putting it into a larger UW pot.

Marla Salmon, dean of the nursing school, said she sympathizes with the students and wishes there had been another way to cut costs. She said the alternatives — to lay off staff or cut programs entirely — were even less desirable.

"If anything, the entire school has been the victim of a state funding bait-and-switch," Salmon said. "It has hit us very hard, and hit us in a way that has made it very, very difficult to get things lined up the way we wanted to."

State budget cuts due to the recession are forcing the UW to reduce spending by $73 million over the next fiscal year.

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Salmon said staff are working round the clock to try to secure scholarships and financial aid to reduce the burden on affected doctoral nursing students. She said the program costs the nursing school more than any other to offer. She also said the changes bring the doctoral degree in line with many other UW graduate programs already billed through Educational Outreach.

But Ehrlich says the school's actions have made the students feel expendable.

"I understand there's a budget crunch, and we don't deserve to get off scot-free," she said. "But it seems like they came up with a quick fix — to lop off a whole branch in order to save a bunch of time and money."

In the end, Ehrlich said, it will be underserved people who will suffer if students lose interest in the program.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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