THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
No New Enrollments Without More State Funds, Warn Regents
As the state of Washington faces a $2 billion revenue shortfall, a battle is looming over support for higher education.
The UW is 16 percent behind the average of its 24 peer institutions in the amount of state funding it receives per student. The gap is $2,600 per student or $92 million annually. The Board of Regents has warned lawmakers that the University will hold enrollments at current levels if there is no progress in per-student funding.
"If and only if, significant progress is possible on state appropriated funding per student, will we be able to consider any incremental enrollment increases," said a statement issued by the board in July.
The state is spending about $334 million this year for instructional support-about 16 percent of the total UW budget. That sum funds 35,484 full-time equivalent students.
The total enrollment for the Seattle campus, including part-time and non-matriculating students, is 39,216. UW officials estimate that the campus is already overenrolled by about 1,500 students.
State funding for higher education has been weakening. Over the last two years, the UW suffered $27 million in budget cuts and was forced to leave 62 faculty vacancies open, notes UW Director of Government Relations Dick Thompson, '68.
Because of the slowing economy, state officials project a shortfall of more than $2 billion in the coming budget cycle. So much red ink has not flowed since 1981-83, when the UW had to shut down 24 degree programs in fields such as nutritional sciences, art education, outdoor recreation and kinesiology.
Mindful of the revenue crisis, the UW is not asking for new degree programs or academic initiatives in its 2003-05 budget request. Instead it is looking for a six-year commitment to lift UW funding to the average of its peers. "We are focusing on the most at-risk part of the University, and that is our core funding," says Thompson.
The additional $60 million would fund new enrollments, improve academic services and start closing the faculty pay gap. Officials project a 12.1 percent gap between UW faculty salary levels and the target set by the state, which is based on salaries at 24 peer institutions.
Thompson warned that quality and access will suffer if state levels are not increased. More faculty are accepting offers from competitive universities, he said. President Richard L. McCormick recently reported that 116 faculty left in 2000-2001, up from 66 departures two years earlier.
The state's college-aged population is growing faster than the overall population, and that is putting extra pressure on all public colleges and universities, Thompson added. According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the community college system is currently overenrolled by nearly 9,000 full-time students and the four-year campuses are overenrolled by 3,500.
"Everybody is full. There is no excess capacity," Thompson said. Without more state funding, the UW's already high academic standards will have to climb even higher, he added. For this fall's freshman class, the average high school GPA was 3.66 and the average SAT score was 1168.
For students already here, it will be harder to get classes they need. "The time it takes to get a degree will suffer if the Legislature fails to provide more revenue," he explained.
The state must also fund its share of the campus capital costs, Thompson said. There are 15 structures on the Seattle campus built between 1895 and 1931 that need complete renovations. "We are at risk of the total loss of function for these existing buildings, such as Johnson Hall," he warned.
Built in 1930, Johnson Hall's plumbing is so decrepit, students and faculty are not allowed to drink the water. Sometimes a garden hose connected to an outside faucet is necessary for laboratory equipment to function.
Because of the crisis, the UW's 2003-05 capital request does not ask for state funds for new buildings. The $150 million proposal targets urgent renovations of Johnson, Guggenheim and Architecture halls and also includes money for modernization and deferred renewal projects.
"It doesn't make sense to build a new building when you are watching existing buildings in the middle of campus fall apart," Thompson said.
The budget situation is hitting UW Tacoma and UW Bothell just as hard, Thompson added. Both campuses serve students at the junior and senior level, as well as offer some graduate level programs. Launched 13 years ago to serve the wave of new enrollments, coming in the 21st century; restoring funds makes that goal more difficult to reach, he said.
UW Bothell would add capacity to it education, M.B.A., computing and software, and nursing programs. UW Tacoma wants to add student slots in social work and computing.
Gov. Gary Locke will announce his budget plan in the next few weeks and the Legislature meets Jan. 13 to begin writing a budget for 2003-05. Alumni concerned about higher education should contact their legislators at 1-800-562-6000.
President McCormick and WSU President V. Lane Rawlins have been touring the state together to seek support. State colleges and universities are organizing a higher education day in Olympia for March 27. For more information, contact the Office of Government Relations at (206) 543-7604 or e-mail