THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
State's Colleges Get Surprisingly Strong Support in New Poll
In a state where there is supposed to be an East-West, urban-rural divide, a new public opinion survey released Feb. 6 found that there is surprisingly strong statewide support for higher education in general and the University of Washington in particular.
The survey of 400 Washington adults found that 75 percent had a favorable view of the UW, with only 5 percent unfavorable (the rest had no opinion). In addition, 90 percent said UW research is important to the state, 81 percent would recommend the UW to a relative planning to go to college, and 80 percent felt the UW provides benefits to all citizens of the state.
In general, Washington citizens said their public colleges and universities offer high quality education (72 percent) and make a significant contribution to the state's economy (84 percent). They opposed cuts in state funding to higher education (66 percent) and felt that their public colleges and universities offer good value (80 percent).
"The overall level of support for higher education is much higher than I expected," says UW Vice President for University Relations Jack Faris, '68.
"Frankly I'm jubilant about the high esteem in which the University of Washington is held," he adds. "I would have thought we'd have more negative numbers or at least more neutral ones."
The survey was part of a nationwide poll by the American Council on Education, an association representing 1,800 U.S. colleges and universities. In many cases, support for higher education in Washington state matched or exceeded the national average.
For example, when asked to choose between getting a tax cut or spending more on higher education, the national sample favored the tax cut (54 percent to 37 percent for more spending). But in the state of Washington, the population was split, with 47 percent wanting to spend more on higher education and 46 percent favoring a tax cut.
"I think it shows stronger support for higher education than many people assume," Faris says.
The council launched the survey in reaction to the decline in state support for public higher education across the United States. From 1986 to 1996, higher education's share of average state spending fell 14 percent. Over the same period, Medicaid's share nearly doubled and money spent on correctional facilities grew by more than 25 percent.
Because of the recession, tax cut legislation and the aftermath of Sept. 11, political scientists and educators think state support will weaken further. In January the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 43 states are experiencing revenue shortfalls and more than half are considering budget cuts.
In Washington, the state is grappling with a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall and the governor is recommending a 5-percent cut in higher education. For the UW that would amount to $18.1 million (see "Regents Could Gain Tuition Authority").
Results from the survey could help Washington lawmakers in their funding decisions. The public wildly overestimated the cost of tuition at state colleges and universities-they thought the average was $10,010 when, in reality, this year's UW tuition and fees are $3,983.
Asked if they would support a tuition increase at the UW, 72 percent said they would "strongly" or "somewhat" support an increase, provided that there was also an increase in financial aid. "That is a very important caveat," says Faris. "Any tuition increase should be balanced by increases in financial aid to make sure the University remains accessible."
Higher education, while strongly supported, must compete with other priorities, according to poll results. When given a variety of places to spend more funds, Washingtonians gave stronger support to primary and secondary schools (64 percent), roads and highways (61 percent) and public transportation (51 percent) than they gave to higher education (39 percent).
For more information on the survey, visit the American Council on Education Web site at www.acenet.edu.