July 7, 2009

Article on WWU touches familiar themes

By Randy Hodgins

Crosscut features a good article by Floyd McKay on Western Washington University and how it is facing a challenging budget environment.  New WWU President Bruce Shephard made headlines early in his tenure by cutting Western’s football program.  As the article notes, bigger challenges awaited:

On Western’s campus, the football flap was overshadowed by budget issues as all Washington campuses took budget hits in November, then more with the legislative budget, and now WWU faces about a 2 percent reduction this summer. Western has become, Shepard notes, a “publicly supported” rather than a “public” institution, as state support drops this year to 43 percent, from 60 percent during 2008-2009.

Shepard says the biggest surprise of his freshman year was the lack of support at the Legislature; he spent most of his teaching career in Oregon, where state support has plummeted in recent years, and expected more from Washington. But legislators told him their voters believe higher education is “elitist” and “they [voters] don’t see their kids going to your university.”

The new guy in town has discovered what veterans have learned over the years: A policy of limiting state support for public colleges and universities also limits enrollment, which in turn means fewer Washington families see their children at a state school. When things turn tough, the downward spiral accelerates, further eroding public support.

Many of the themes will be familiar to those who followed the budget debates earlier this year.  You can read the entire Crosscut article here.

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