Office of the President

January 26, 2010

Legislative update from Olympia


Dear Members of the University Community:

With the 2010 legislative session now underway, I want to take this opportunity to follow up on my November e-mail message in which I communicated the University’s strategies in the wake of the latest state revenue shortfall. As we move forward, we are focusing our message in Olympia on four key planks:

  1. Stop further budget reductions that would erode our ability to meet the educational needs of our students and to serve the citizens of Washington.
  2. Preserve funding for the State Need Grant program that serves so many Washington students from economically stressed families and that makes our Husky Promise program possible.
  3. Provide reasonable tuition flexibility.
  4. Provide greater management flexibility in our operating processes.

Governor Gregoire spoke to a couple of these points in her State of the State message to the Legislature two weeks ago. Notably, she strongly urged legislators to preserve the State Need Grant program. Including this in her message signals the high priority she places on the program and is a good sign that she and her administration will do everything possible to ensure that Washington students continue to have access to higher education regardless of their financial circumstances.

She also urged the Legislature to provide the four-year universities “with competitive tuition flexibility so we can continue to be ranked among the best in the nation in producing the most innovative workers and employers.” This, too, is welcome support, as the University would have the ability to manage one of its key sources of revenue, the tuition our students and their families pay.

Right now, the UW is the only institution among our peers whose governing board does not establish tuition rates for resident undergraduates. Washington is one of only three states in the nation in which tuition is set solely by the Legislature. This session, we are seeking authorization for our Board of Regents to establish resident undergraduate tuition, within a responsible framework established by the Legislature. This would result in greater predictability and consistency in tuition policy.

Along with the ability to set tuition rates comes a responsibility to maintain access to the University for those who are economically disadvantaged. I am very proud of the UW’s economic diversity. The median family income of dependent resident undergraduates is $61,000. Sixty-three percent of resident undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid and 46 percent receive financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, or waivers. This year, 7,000 students attend the University on the Husky Promise and pay no tuition at all. That’s one out of every four resident undergraduate students. We are committed to ensuring that those who need help with tuition get it. Our legislative proposal for having the Regents set tuition rates imposes reasonable caps on how much tuition can increase annually and in total, and it increases the University’s contribution to student financial aid from 3.5 percent of tuition revenues to 4.5 percent, along with continued support for the State Need Grant program.

Our message is straightforward: Since state funding of higher education continues to decline, of necessity a greater share of the cost must be borne by students and families. However, in doing so, we are fully committed to ensuring that those who cannot afford to pay more still have the wherewithal—through increases in financial aid—to afford the price of attending. No Washington student should miss out on pursuing higher education because she or he can’t pay. And all of our students expect and deserve the highest quality educational experience money can buy—and we can provide.


Mark A. Emmert