The state gets more education for the dollars it puts into community colleges, she adds, because the cost of education is cheaper than at a research university.
Olswang concedes that what he calls “simple access” is cheaper at community colleges. “But does that lead to expanded access to a bachelor’s degree? If you are looking for more B.A. degrees, we are by far the cheaper alternative,” he declares.
Money weighs heavily on all facets of the conversation. The price tag starts small but quickly grows. In the coming state budget, the UW is asking for $9 million to cover expanding enrollments at both UWT and UWB. But by 2015, the UWT expansion would cost $54 million annually. The UWB expansion would cost $42.5 million annually by 2020. In addition, there are construction costs for both campuses: $207 million for UWT and $163 million for UWB.
The WSU plans have similar price tags. To serve 3,645 full-time students by 2015, WSU Vancouver estimates $164 million in capital costs and an additional $33.3 million in annual operating expenses. WSU Tri-Cities estimates $103 million in capital costs and an additional $15 million in annual operating expenses to serve 1,800 full-time students.
On Jan. 27, the state Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended that UW Tacoma and WSU Vancouver begin to admit freshmen and sophomores. It decided to wait for a year before making a decision on UW Bothell and WSU Tri-Cities.
But the Legislature may have different ideas. Currently there are bills in both the House and the Senate that would authorize all four regional campuses to teach freshmen and sophomores. But with a $1.7 billion shortfall in the state budget, opponents are asking where the money will come from to fund these plans.
The Legislature could make its decision by doing nothing and hoping that college graduates continue to come here from other states. Lawmakers know that to drive a 21st century economy, the state needs college graduates. Since Washington ranks 46th in the number of citizens working toward a bachelor’s degree, it has to import college graduates.
On the surface, some might say this “importation scheme” is working. The 2000 census found that, per capita, Washington ranks in the top 10 in the nation in the number of adults with college degrees. “Why not let other states pay for a costly college education and then import the graduates as Washington needs them?” some politicians might ask.
Of course, this closes the door of opportunity to Washington’s own citizens. “Sure there may be an economic upside to exporting our students looking for a college degree,” says UW State Relations Director Randy Hodgins, ’79, ’83, as long as the state successfully imports enough college graduates. “But what kind of message does that send to Washington parents and their kids?”
Emmert says importing college graduates “only works if you want students from California and Michigan to get the high paying jobs while the sons and daughters of Washington are out washing cars.
“Saying you can’t afford education is the most short-sighted thing you can ever say.”
Besides budgetary limits, other political forces are also in play. More than a year ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said in an editorial that the UW Bothell campus was “misplaced” and that a four-year campus belongs “in or near” Everett, a position the UW does not endorse. Some community colleges feel that if the UW’s and WSU’s newer campuses are going to start courses for freshmen and sophomores, they should be able to offer courses for juniors and seniors.
Then there is continued pressure for more access to the Seattle campus. The UW continues its longtime policy of reserving 30 percent of all new enrollment space in Seattle for transfers. This year that was more than 2,300 students. But because there are more and more students clamoring to get in but almost no additional enrollment space, Seattle is delaying or turning away more and more transfers.
Emmert says it might make sense to add a modest number of new spaces for undergraduates and graduates at the Seattle campus, but that he doesn’t want to “stretch the capacity to deliver a high quality education.” He also points to the constraints of a high density urban campus. The majority of the growth for undergraduates, he says, must come at Bothell and Tacoma.
Meanwhile Helen Sommers is back in Olympia for her 33rd year as a legislator. She once again heads the House Appropriations Committee and sits on its Higher Education Committee as well. So far there have been no new surprises. Like most lawmakers, she is waiting for the March state revenue forecast. Those numbers may have a large role in the decision to expand the missions of the four campuses in Bothell, Tacoma, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver.
“The state is going to have to make some hard choices,” says UWT’s Olswang. “It has to decide if higher education is going to be an essential part of the services the state provides.”
For updates on this issue and other higher education topics in Olympia, visit the new Huskies for Higher Education Web site at http://www.huskiesforhighered.org.
-Tom Griffin has been editor of Columns since it was founded in 1989.
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