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Lawmakers Face 'Urgency' as They Make Funding Decisions for Higher Ed

With the November elections behind us, the focus turns to the legislative session in January and the fate of higher education funding. Lawmakers must deal with a $1 billion shortfall in general revenues just to keep current programs and services going.

Despite financial woes for the state, the University's representative in Olympia feels that higher education is going to get significant attention in the halls of the state capitol.

"I can feel an increased sense of urgency," says UW State Relations Director Randy Hodgins, '79, '83. "I think it's going to be one of the top issues everyone feels we have to deal with next session."

The Legislature will write a two-year state budget that starts in July 2005. In an unprecedented move, UW submitted its budget request jointly with WSU. Titled "Investing in a Knowledge-Based Economy," the joint request fouses increased attention on the importance of the state's two research universities to the state's economy.

For its portion of the budget, the UW is asking for $782 million in state support-a 22 percent increase over the $636.8 million the state provided during 2003-05. Included in that amount is an increase in full-time student enrollment of 1,037 spaces at all three campuses. Hodgins doesn't think the failure of Initiative 884, which would have added one cent to the state sales tax to fund education from pre-school to college, will hurt higher education's agenda. The initiative lost 39 to 61 percent in the Nov. 2 election. "Higher education is still a bipartisan issue in Olympia," he says.

The University's budget request is unusual because it doesn't specify a tuition increase. The UW, WSU and the governor's office are currently negotiating performance contracts, which specify certain outcomes for the institutions. In return, the state would commit to specific levels of support.

"The goal is to ensure that the UW can thrive and be a healthy institution long into the future," Hodgins says. "We cannot thrive with low state funding and low tuition, which is what we have at the moment. We need the Legislature to make a decision this session."

The UW budget request includes $75 million to begin moving state funding levels toward the average of 24 peer institutions. Currently the peer average is $12,043 per student. At the UW, state support is only $8,866 per student. "Additional money would help relieve bottleneck courses by hiring more faculty, help recruit and retain the faculty stars, improve our technical infrastructure and libraries, and address the state of our historic buildings on campus, which need more maintenance," Hodgins says.

The UW's capital request includes funding for small repairs and renovations, as well as $63 million for major renovation work on Guggenheim and Architecture halls. Also included is $14 million for UW Bothell and $13 million for UW Tacoma.

Another issue will be the fate of upper-division campuses at the UW and WSU. There is a move to broaden their scope by offering some courses at the freshman and sophomore level.

Alumni who are interested in UW issues are invited to attend Higher Education Day in Olympia, held Tuesday, Feb. 15. The day begins with a noon luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel, 2300 Evergreen Park Dr., and includes time to meet with state lawmakers.

For more information about Higher Education Day in Olympia, contact the UWAA at 206-543-0540 or 1-800-AUW-ALUM. Visit the UW Office of State Relations at http://www.washington.edu/about/staterel/