Much of my time this past week has been spent meeting with various legislators on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education to help them better understand the policy rationale for the Washington Learns recommendations to use what are called Global Challenge States for higher education funding benchmarks.
For many years, per student funding for the UW has been measured against a set of 24 peer institutions referred to as the “HECB 24.” These schools were selected almost 20 years ago to help guide legislative budget decisions to improve per student funding, but were essentially abandoned during the economic downturn in 1993-95. Since that time, higher education budgets have not been constructed with per student funding improvements in mind.
The Washington Learns effort recognized the need to take a fresh look at the existing peer groupings in order to be able to justify a renewed interest in improving per student funding for higher education institutions. Instead of choosing similar institutions to the UW as has been done in the past, the consultants recommended selecting other states that like Washington, were ranked highly in their potential to complete in the new knowledge-based global economy.
The top eight states in what is called the New Economy Index (Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia and Colorado) became the Washington Learns Global Challenge States. Peer institutions were identified within each of these states and then per student funding comparisons were made. As most of us know by careful reading of this blog, per student funding for the UW ranks near the bottom of this institutional grouping and about $3,700 per student below the 60th percentile benchmark recommended by Washington Learns.
A number of House members expressed reservations this past week about the global challenge states and the logic and rationale behind their selection. Some of the concern is based upon the fact that not every elected official had an opportunity to participate fully in the 18 months of Washington Learns meetings in which these issues were thoroughly discussed and debated. Other concerns have more to do with the choice of states as comparisons rather than the individual institutions within them, while others are resistent to changing the existing HECB 24.
The importance of the Global Challenge State benchmarks to the University is the critical need to improve per student funding in order to maintain our competitiveness and improve the overall quality of our educational offerings. Establishing these in statute will also insure that the legislature has a long term framework to guide their budget allocation decisions. I’ll keep you posted on this issue in the coming weeks as budget proposals are finalized in the House and Senate.