Accountability, Access, Quality Are Top Issues For UW, Legislature

Issues of accountability, access and quality face the University of Washington this January as it goes to the 1997 Legislature with an $814 million budget request, about $75 million over current levels.

The UW is also asking for a 7.5 percent increase in faculty and staff pay for each year in the state's two-year budget.

Much of the new money goes for increasing enrollments at all three UW campuses, explains Vice President for University Relations Bob Edie. About 800 new full-time spots would open in Seattle, while Tacoma and Bothell would each get 300 new full-time spots.

With the coming wave of students in the 18-24 age group, the UW recognizes that access to higher education is the Legislature's top concern, says Edie. Another issue for lawmakers is how well the University is spending the state funds it already receives.

"Before we ask for additional funding, we need to answer the question of whether we have been good stewards with the money we have been given," Edie says. "We need to point to areas of substantial improvement, particularly in undergraduate education."

For example, the five-year graduation rate has risen from 50 percent to 58 percent--the highest rate of all public institutions in the state. The six-year rate has jumped from 57 percent to 70 percent.

In addition, Edie says, the freshman retention rate of 90 percent is among the best at public research universities across the nation. At the same time, the size of an average freshman/sophomore class has dropped from 44 to 40 students.

Associate Vice President for University Relations Sheral Burkey notes that out of the $75 million in new revenues, about 40 percent would be "leveraged" from non-state or existing revenues. Burkey is also the UW's director of government relations.

Some of those leveraged funds come from modest tuition increases, the tuition gained from higher enrollments, and a 1 percent budget reallocation the UW is imposing on all its units, called the University Initiative Fund. The UW will take back 1 percent of each unit's base budget in each of the next five UW budgets and reallocate the money to new and innovative programs that otherwise would not be funded.

"The fund is a major step in the University trying to help itself," Edie says. "We constantly hear from the Legislature and business leaders to reprioritize, to take advantage of changing circumstances. Here's a clear, concrete example of our willingness to do this, to be entrepreneurial." Officials estimate the fund will have $8 million in the 1997-99 biennium.

Missing in all the discussions about accountability and access is a third issue of utmost importance to the UW, says Burkey--quality. While the UW is a top research institution--it receives more federal dollars for research than any other public university in the nation--the average faculty salary is slipping.

The UW faculty currently rank only 68th out of 85 public and private research universities in average faculty salaries.

"We are worried about the recruitment and retention of top faculty," says Burkey. "Since 1993, competitive offers to UW faculty have quadrupled."

"Legislators always tell us that the faculty should do more. Well, in order to be successful, you've got to have some reasonable salary increases," adds Edie. Both note that over a four-year period (July 1993 to June 1997) faculty and staff will have seen only one salary increase, a four percent cost-of-living pay hike.

The UW capital budget request is also crucial to preserving the quality and enhancing access to the University, say Edie and Burkey. At the Seattle campus, the UW is asking for $68.3 million for new oceanography and fisheries buildings, $32.7 million to renovate Suzzallo Library, $33.9 million for a new law school building and $54.2 million for a new research and training facility at Harborview.

Funds for the UW Tacoma campus design and construction come to $22.9 million. A joint request from the UW and the state community college board seeks $106 million to begin building the Cascadia Community College/UW Bothell shared campus on a site near the intersection of I-405 and State Route 522.

It is an ambitious budget request, Edie concedes, but "if we demonstrate to the Legislature that we have accounted for the dollars it has already given us and that we are stepping up to take care of our fair share of the access problem, we trust the lawmakers will provide us with the dollars to ensure the academic quality of this institution," he says.

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