JUNE 2006: Home arrow Briefings arrow Latest arrow New Budget Has State Investing in Higher Ed
New Budget Has State Investing in Higher Ed Print

Usually supplemental budgets live up to their name—they merely supplement what has been decided in the previous session of the state Legislature. But for this year’s budget makeover, the situation was different. Olympia was sitting on a huge surplus and both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office were controlled by the same party.

The result was a $1.3 billion budget redo signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, ’69, ’71, on March 31. Lawmakers set aside $940 million to cover future needs in the next two-year budget. The rest of the money focused on programs in education, health care, environment, energy, transportation and economic development—including an additional $18.1 million in new funding for the University of Washington. “The new UW spending is really an investment,” explains State Relations Director Randy Hodgins, ’79, ’83. “You can be rock-solid certain that investments in the UW will pay off for the state of Washington.”

A key part of the UW package is an extra $2.5 million to add 150 “high demand” student enrollments beginning this fall. These are degree tracks in math, science and engineering with instructional costs that are higher than basic liberal-arts courses.

Hodgins is also pleased that the state will pick up some of the operation and maintenance costs for two new research facilities built without any state funds—the South Lake Union Phase Two biomedical complex and the William Foege Building on campus (see “Meeting Ground,” page 28). Recent surveys put Washington 49th in the nation for state investment in university research on a per capita basis. The $4.4 million that was provided for these new facilities is direct support of the UW’s research mission, says Hodgins.

“This is a huge shot in the arm,” he says. Faculty are often nervous about continuing support for research funded by grants and contracts, he explains. With the state now stepping up, it is a sign that there may be a change in attitude. “It is absolutely catalytic what a small investment can do,” he says.

One of those catalysts is another budget item—$4.5 million to renovate part of Fluke Hall for a new nanotechnology laboratory. With the remodel, the UW hopes to recruit a world leader in the field, Gabriel Aeppli, currently director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology and a physics professor at University College London. Aeppli was featured in a recent Time magazine cover story that asked “Is America Flunking Science?”

Lawmakers also made a crucial investment in the future of UW Tacoma by authorizing $4 million in bonds to purchase property for future expansion. If the money had not been allotted, the land may have been sold to private developers instead.

Similar investments were made at other state universities and the community college system. Overall, says Hodgins, the new direction is “a sign of things to come.” He says that next year the UW will have an ambitious legislative request.

“We need all of our supporters to help take this university from being a very good university to being one of the greatest research universities on the planet,” he explains. “We also need people who care about the University to be there to support us.”

Alumni interested in state support for universities and colleges can visit the Huskies for Higher Education Web site at . Also, alumni should mark their calendars for Higher Education Day in Olympia, held Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The daylong event will be an opportunity to meet with lawmakers and the governor at a luncheon and during the afternoon.