We greatly appreciate Gov. Gary Locke’s efforts in his 2005-07 budget proposal to protect existing higher education programs, but we are concerned that his plan fails to address issues critical to the future of higher education in this state.
From our point of view, there are clearly positives in the governor’s budget plan. We appreciate his efforts to protect the research universities from cuts in the face of a projected $1.8 billion deficit and his efforts to begin addressing some of the critical funding issues facing our research universities. As we have stressed repeatedly, adequate funding is vital to our ability to provide the educational opportunities our children deserve and to fuel the economic future of our state. We believe that the governor’s budget proposal recognizes the importance of these issues.
The governor’s funding of our collective bargaining agreements and salary increases for faculty and professional staff is a positive step, as our ability to provide competitive salaries has eroded significantly over the last four years when no salary increases were funded. The governor’s recognition of the need for state support of our research mission is also a significant step in the right direction, although the amount provided is far short of what we need and what other states invest in their research universities.
While these steps signal an understanding of the central role our research universities should play in driving our economy and helping maintain Washington’s competitive position, the level of funding provided falls woefully short of what is needed. This budget proposal leaves some very important issues unresolved at a time when higher education institutions in Washington, particularly the research universities, are unable to respond to many of the demands that are being made of them.
Primary among our concerns is the capital construction budget. There is no funding for critical expansion projects at UW Bothell, UW Tacoma, and WSU Spokane that are essential to address the state’s access problem. In addition, funding for critical restoration projects on the Seattle campus has been reduced, funding for future restoration projects has been eliminated, and a wastewater re-use project in Pullman was left in limbo. A bioproducts research facility in the Tri-Cities in partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratories is not funded, delaying implementation of important research and instruction programs for state economic development.
We will work with the new governor and the Legislature to encourage them to find additional capital funding that will allow the state to finance more projects on the prioritized list that has been agreed upon by all of the four-year institutions.
We are also concerned that this budget provides no funding for growth in enrollments at any of the seven UW and WSU campuses at a time when the state’s higher education system cannot meet the demand for access to four-year degrees. The governor acknowledged at his press conference Thursday that “the demand to get into our state colleges and universities will be bigger and stronger than ever before.” He noted there will be 5,000 more high school graduates over the next 2-3 years and that there already is only limited capacity to transfer from community colleges to four-year universities in Washington.
The existing four-year institutions cannot now and will not in the future be able to provide enough spaces for students coming out of our state’s high schools and community colleges without more state-funded enrollments. Significant omissions in the governor’s proposed capital and operating budgets will prevent expansion at Bothell, Tacoma, Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Spokane that would have addressed the growing demand for access.
The financial aid proposal in this budget also raises questions. It apparently does not maintain the state general fund’s historic commitment to fully fund student financial aid. We believe this proposal will make it more difficult for us to provide financial aid to those students who need it.
The governor’s budget proposal is better than recent biennial budgets, and we hope that it reflects a growing understanding of the role of research universities in building the economy of our state. Nevertheless, the UW and WSU still face substantial issues in providing access to four-year degrees for qualified students and in closing the gap with our peer institutions in per-student funding. We look forward to working with state government leaders in addressing these issues in the upcoming budget process.