The recently concluded legislative session saw some progress on issues of importance to the UW, and a lot of discussion about the future of higher education in the state.
President Lee Huntsman called it “a remarkably successful legislative session. We saw legislators paying more attention to higher education. The fact that they allocated funds to address over enrollments shows that they paid attention to the statements issued by the UW and WSU regents, stating that the institutions no longer would be able to absorb the costs of over enrollment.
“The adoption of directed master planning legislation for higher education, and a pilot program for performance contracts, sends an important signal,” he added. “The Legislature is engaged in important discussions regarding the future of higher education in this state, and we expect big decisions in the next session.”
The UW’s highest priority, legislation that exempts private high-technology research and development construction from sales tax (including facilities that will be used by researchers at UW or WSU), has already been signed into law.
While legislation that would authorize performance contracts for higher education institutions died in the Senate and House fiscal committees, language authorizing a prototype contract for a research university was added to the supplemental budget.
“This contract can be as specific and detailed as we choose to make it in negotiations with the governor’s office and the Higher Education Coordinating Board,” said Randy Hodgins, director of state relations. “We will also be having discussions with WSU about how they would like to work together as part of this pilot phase.”
The supplemental budget added $1.9 million in general enrollment funding, which will be applied to 338 overenrolled positions currently at the UW. The budget also provided $1.9 million in support of the Family Practice Residency Program and $1.6 million for the establishment of a proteomics center. The Legislature appropriated $675,000 for a “satellite” autism center at UW Tacoma, but the funding is for one time only, which makes creation of an ongoing center problematic.
The only bad news in the budget, Hodgins said, was a reduction of $1.3 million in personal service contracts, equipment and travel. Hodgins hopes the Governor will veto this section .
Legislators allocated over $7 million for high-demand enrollments, to be split evenly between the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. The HEC Board allocation is expected to provide for 324 additional FTE students in four-year institutions. Budget language will allow independent four-year institutions to compete for these enrollments, provided they comply with standards and reporting requirements established by the HEC Board.
Budget language also mandates that the UW produce a plan to phase in lower division courses at UW Bothell. The report is due to the Legislature by Dec. 15. Another section of the budget directs the HEC Board to study different enrollment scenarios to suggest how higher education enrollment might grow over the next eight years.
“A larger question,” Hodgins said, “is where the resources for this expansion would come from.” A separate bill requires that each branch campus submit a report to the Legislature by Nov. 15 on its future evolution.
The supplemental capital budget allocates nearly $15 million in state funds to the UW. The most important of these measures would allow completion of the design phase of the UW Bothell off-ramp. A state allocation of $3 million will be matched by federal dollars to complete a renovation of space for the Department of Psychology in Guthrie Hall. In addition, some 35 general assignment classrooms will be upgraded, and laboratory space in the H-wing in health sciences will be renovated.
The most controversial piece of higher education legislation would make independent colleges permanently eligible to compete for high-demand enrollments. Some public institutions have already requested that the governor veto this bill. The UW Board of Regents expressed concern that this provision could siphon public money away from public institutions.
“Private institutions should have a role in addressing the enrollment issue, but to include them in the state subsidy is tricky business,” Huntsman said. “I believe the open-ended language in this particular bill is insupportable. We need to have a level playing field for both public and private institutions. The question is, do private institutions want the burden of state regulations that comes from receiving a state subsidy?”