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University presidents detail budget-cut impacts on higher ed

Post by Katie Schmidt on March 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
March 9, 2011 2:46 pm

Presidents from Washington’s universities came to Olympia today to tell lawmakers that the state’s four-year colleges will face dire consequences if they don’t get more funding from somewhere.

Tuition-setting authority, private investment and differential tuition in different undergraduate programs were among the strategies college administrators urged the Legislature to adopt in a House Higher Education Committee work session this morning.

“Frankly both you and we are in a pickle,” said Ralph Munro, a Trustee from Western Washington University speaking to Legislators during the meeting. “We have cut and we have cut and we have cut; I don’t want to see us go any further.”

University officials came to Olympia to explain letters they sent lawmakers in February detailing what they would do under the governor’s proposed cuts to higher education and under other, more dramatic funding-reduction scenarios.

According to the documents, cuts to Washington’s four-year institutions at the levels proposed in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget would lead universities to accept over 3,000 fewer in-state students, increase the time it takes students to graduate and cut over 1,000 jobs.

In her budget, the governor proposed reducing higher education funding by about $447 million and authorizing a 9-11 percent tuition increase per year, but, university administrators pointed out, those increases would not be enough to offset all the cuts.

University representatives said they supported proposals in the Legislature now to give tuition-setting authority to university boards of regents to prevent the flight of talented faculty and other declines in quality at their institutions.

“The reason I came to the UW was because it was a world-class university,” said Phyllis Wise, the Interim President of the University of Washington. “I will fight to the death to make sure that the quality is maintained.”

She said another proposal on the table at the UW was charging different amounts for different undergraduate majors.

Under the current system, Wise said, undergraduates in the social sciences subsidize higher-cost instruction in engineering and science, so it could be more fair to charge students more if they choose expensive programs.

Jim Gaudino, the president of Central Washington University, said proposals such as the Higher Education Funding Task Force’s recommendation that the state set up a business-funded scholarship endowment, could also be helpful.

He said he could be forced to cut fundraising staff at Central over the upcoming biennium, reducing the university’s ability to get money from private sources.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat and the sponsor of one higher education funding bill under consideration in the Legislature, also said it was time for the state to look for ways to channel more private-sector funding into Washington universities.

No matter what strategy state lawmakers choose, college administrators agreed that changes needed to happen somewhere for higher education to have a sustainable future in Washington.

“Higher education will always lose in a biennial race because the needs of the constituencies that show up in your office and say, ‘children will die this year’ are real and if I were you I would vote for that funding over higher education,” said Gaudino. “We need to get higher education on a pathway that is not biennially determined because we will always lose in those discussions.”

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