Dear students, faculty and staff:
Over the weekend, the Legislature completed the unenviable task of writing and passing a biennial budget during the worst economic period in decades. Any budget that must bridge a biennial shortfall of $9 billion is bound to please no one and to result in serious consequences for the state.
For the University of Washington, the resulting budget decisions are dramatic. The bad news is that the Legislature decided to reduce state funding to the six public four-year college and universities more than any other sector in state government. The University of Washington received the highest percentage cut in all of higher education-26 percent. This is a stark and sobering number.
Beginning July 1, one quarter of our funding from the state will no longer exist. It is unprecedented in state history, and as far as we know, it is by far the largest reduction in state support to a flagship university by any state in the nation. It takes our state funding level back to where it was more than a decade ago and drops the portion of the state budget dedicated to four-year higher education to an all-time low.
The somewhat better news, though it may not appear so to our students and their families, is that the budget authorizes our Regents to increase resident undergraduate tuition up to 14 percent for the 2009-11 biennium, as I described in a previous message to you. Also, our Regents’ authority to set tuition levels for graduate, professional and non-resident students was extended an additional four years, though no decision about those tuition levels has been made yet. If approved by the Regents, tuition for resident undergraduates would increase $875 next academic year and $1,000 the following year.
These increases will partially offset the more dire effects of the state budget cut and, when combined with some federal stimulus funding the state also appropriated, will bring our effective budget cut for the biennium down to about 12 percent. This is still a very large budget reduction-about $50 million in each of the next two years. Moreover, increasing costs in such areas as utilities and debt service will compound our budget challenge.
The conversation about tuition would not have been possible were it not for several factors worth noting. First, historically, our tuition has been relatively low compared to our peer institutions, so any consideration about increasing it started from a comparatively low base. Second, the federal stimulus program includes increases to the amount of Pell grants and a widely expanded tuition tax credit, both of which make tuition more affordable for low and middle-income families. I do not underestimate the effect of increased tuition on many of our students, but without these elements in play, the conversation to increase tuition would have been much more difficult.
The impacts of the state’s budget cuts will be felt across our University community. A large percentage of our operating expenses involves people and jobs, and taking cuts of this magnitude without affecting jobs would be impossible. There will be a significant number of job losses. This will be hard on everyone, and hardest on those whose jobs are lost due to the budget cuts. We are exploring all available ways to manage this situation. We will do all we can to give as much notice as possible-60 days is our goal-to those whose jobs are lost. These losses mean there will be fewer individuals to provide the education and support services our students require, and we will need to find creative ways to fill the voids left, though we will not be able to do so completely.
Over the past months, there have been extensive discussions across the UW community about how to best handle the state’s budget cut. Based upon what we have heard and the information we have, Provost Wise will be sending budget allocations for the 2009-11 biennium to deans, chancellors, vice provosts and vice presidents later this week, and they will begin the process of implementing them. While no one has been spared, we have tried as best as we can to protect the instructional core of the University by taking much larger cuts in administrative and support units and smaller cuts in academic units. The Board of Regents must approve our budget, and we will be presenting it to them at their May meeting, with final approval to come in June.
Many of you have submitted thoughtful ideas for how the University can save money in our operations. Some of these ideas have already been implemented, and others are still under consideration. Your thoughts and ideas have been very welcome. Later this week, I will be sending you an update on where we stand on cost-saving ideas that have been suggested by members of our UW community.
State budgets are extremely complex with far-reaching implications. Cuts to other state agencies will also affect our University community. For example, health and human service budget reductions will have an impact on UW Medicine. Paul Ramsey will continue to communicate with those in UW Medicine regarding the impact of budget reductions as they become more apparent.
This dramatic reduction in state support signals a fundamental change in our relationship with the state. For the first time in our history, tuition revenue will exceed state support. The funding the state of Washington provides to its public universities has fallen to among the lowest levels in the nation. These realities will force us to change the fundamental financial model by which we operate and to reconsider the manner in which we approach our core mission. We certainly will not allow these cuts to become an excuse for slipping backward by simply reducing our quality or our commitment to academic excellence. On the contrary, as we work our way through this, I am confident that we can find new approaches that will allow the UW to become an even more prominent national and international university.
The next two years will certainly be hard. Many of our colleagues are going to be dislocated at a very difficult time. We will work hard to minimize the impacts on their lives. Also, we will have to work together as colleagues with more collaboration and consideration than ever before. It will be essential that we stay focused on the core values and mission of the University. All in all, this is going to be a challenging task, but I know the UW community is up to it.
Mark A. Emmert