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State Support Grows: “We Have Finally Stopped the Bleeding”

For the first time in the new century, the University of Washington is in better shape coming out of a legislative budget session than it was going in.

Lawmakers boosted UW enrollments, strengthened per-student funding, authorized faculty pay increases and gave regents authority to raise tuition up to 7 percent each year for resident undergraduates. They also authorized UW Tacoma and UW Bothell to begin accepting freshmen and sophomores in the fall of 2006, making the regional campuses four-year universities.

Previous sessions ended with budget cuts. This time, state appropriations for the UW’s two-year budget totaled $704 million. Tuition revenues should raise an additional $438 million. This brings the total core funding for the University to $1.142 billion in 2005–07—an increase of 10 percent.

Reacting to the favorable numbers, President Mark Emmert, ’75, said, “For the first time in several years, we can look to a future where we should not lose ground on the competition.”

Faculty and staff will see an average 3.2 percent cost-of-living raise this summer and a 1.6 percent average raise in 2006. Currently, UW faculty salaries lag 10.8 percent behind the average of eight peer institutions. The increases will prevent the UW from losing more ground, said State Relations Director Randy Hodgins, ’79, ’83. “It could help close some of the gap, depending on what other states are doing,” he added.

More access to a four-year degree was a major goal in the session, said Hodgins, and the results show up in the UW’s expanded enrollments: 360 in Seattle, 325 in Tacoma and 275 in Bothell. For Seattle, about one-third of all new undergraduate enrollments will be reserved for transfers at the junior and senior level. At both Bothell and Tacoma, a majority of the new enrollments target transfers.

This brings the total core funding for the University to 1.142 billion in 2005-07 - an increase of 10 percent.UW officials are pleased that the state has finally increased its per-student funding levels, raising the amount for in-state undergraduates from $5,500 to roughly $6,300. “We have finally stopped the bleeding,” said Hodgins. With per-student funding currently lagging about $4,000 behind peer institutions, the new budget could erase some of that disparity.

“This higher-education operating budget is a good step in the right direction. The improvements in per-student funding, expanded access and financial aid will serve the state’s citizens well,” added Emmert.

“The Legislature sent a clear message that creating opportunities for our young people to earn a bachelor’s degree is an important investment for our state to make in its future,” he said. “Also, evolving our two upper-division campuses at Tacoma and Bothell into four-year institutions will make it possible for more students to earn a bachelor’s degree from the UW, increasing significantly the role these two campuses will play in meeting future higher-education needs in our state.” (See “Growing Pains,” March 2005.)

Resident undergraduate tuition at the UW is $5,286 annually. If the regents authorize a 7 percent increase, it would total $5,656 for 2005–06 and $6,052 for 2006–07. In light of statewide tuition increases, lawmakers raised the income limits for the state’s major financial aid program, the State Need Grant. Families with up to 65 percent of the state median income will qualify (about $43,300 for a family of four). The old limit was 55 percent.

In another historic move, lawmakers dedicated a stream of revenue to public education through a trust account. The Education Legacy Trust Account gathers funds from a newly imposed state estate tax and from a 60-cent-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes. In the next budget cycle, about $313 million will go into the trust fund, with roughly half dedicated to higher education.

“The establishment of the Education Legacy Trust Fund, dedicated to the education needs of our state’s citizens, is a landmark development, one which I believe future generations will look back upon as being a significant event in the funding of education in our state,” noted President Emmert.

The UW received about half of what it requested in the capital budget. For the Seattle campus, construction should start on the restoration of Guggenheim and Architecture halls and for the Health Sciences H-Wing in early 2006. The budget also had design funds for future renovations of Savery and Clark halls and the Playhouse Theatre.

UW Tacoma got funding for a new, 500-seat assembly hall and UW Bothell finally received its share of funding for a freeway off-ramp that will reach the south part of campus. The capital budget provided little money for “minor works,” such as campus deferred maintenance; and lawmakers rejected a $20-million request for enhanced computing infrastructure.

Hodgins says both parties helped support higher education this session and that Gov. Christine Gregoire, ’69, ’71, made it a high priority in her budget. In addition, “we had a new president who was not shy about being in Olympia a lot,” Hodgins says, “and the regents were also a major presence.”

He says alumni input was also crucial to the success, adding that the momentum needs to keep growing. Alumni who want to know more about higher education issues should visit the UWAA web site www.huskiesforhighered.org.