Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:
As you have likely heard, the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives earlier this week released their operating budget proposals for the 2009-2011 biennium. While we expected significant new cuts, the Legislative budget reductions are dramatic and disturbing. All of higher education will be severely impacted should these proposals pass. For the University of Washington, the Senate has proposed a state budget cut of nearly 23 percent, or $189 million, while the House has proposed even deeper cuts of 31 percent, or $260 million. These cuts are worse than we had anticipated, and although they could be mitigated somewhat with federal stimulus funds and tuition increases, they still represent a serious challenge to our ability to serve our state.
If the Senate and House proposals were passed in their present forms, we would see severe impacts across our University community. We would have to significantly reduce the number of students admitted to the University just when we have the highest demand in history. Likewise, because there would be fewer course offerings and fewer staff to provide students services, it would take students longer to complete their degrees. On the research front, our longstanding success in competing for research dollars would be jeopardized, resulting in further losses of jobs and the ensuing detrimental effect on the state’s economy. Also, the only way to manage such large budget cuts would be to eliminate jobs across the University. Notably, these are all consequences that would not just be felt now, but would reverberate long into our state’s future. This makes our efforts to preserve higher education funding all the more important.
The state budget process isn’t over yet. In the coming weeks, much debate and consideration of the Senate and House budgets will occur in committee and on the floors of both chambers. We will be working hard during this time to convince legislators to reduce the amount of the cut. We will also be working very hard to convince legislators that the only way we can endure cuts of this magnitude and continue to serve our students and our state is by increasing tuition significantly more than these budgets propose.
UW tuition is the lowest among our peer universities nationally. At $6,800 a year, it is by any measure a bargain in higher education for a baccalaureate education at one of the nation’s leading universities. Even if it were to increase by $875 (equal to 14 percent), it would still be among the lowest among our peers and still would be considered a bargain. Fortunately, many families can afford to pay tuition at this higher level. For students and families who cannot, financial aid is still very much available. Indeed, the federal stimulus package anticipated rising college demand and included increases in financial aid as well as an expanded educational tax credit. Our analysis is that most students receiving financial aid would not be adversely affected by higher tuition.
The UW Office of Planning and Budgeting has put together an excellent chart that shows how financial aid and the expanded tax credit would help offset a tuition increase. We believe that for most families earning less than $160,000 per year, there would be no appreciable impact of a tuition increase of $875, or 14 percent. Moreover, 20 percent of our undergraduates pay no tuition at all, thanks to generous support from Pell Grants, state need grants, and our own University resources. We remain committed to our Husky Promise program, which guarantees zero tuition to the neediest students.
Clearly, our state leaders face a huge challenge in addressing a budget shortfall of nearly $9 billion, and we fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. Still, we must continue to be unequivocal in presenting our case that higher education is essential to securing a strong future for our state. We are fully committed to working with our state leaders to find creative, effective solutions during this financial crisis. Indeed, we believe that an increase in tuition is one such solution — one that would help the state deal in a sensible way with its current budget predicament. I will continue to keep you informed as developments occur.
Mark A. Emmert