July 8, 2009

Crossing the Rubicon?

By Randy Hodgins

Today’s Seattle Times featured an opinion piece by Higher Education Coordination Board Executive Director Ann Daley on the trend toward lower state funding for our public baccalaureate institutions.  According to the article:

THE budget cuts to our public higher-education institutions this biennium were deep enough to cause some to suggest we have crossed the Rubicon — a point of no return.

Are we entering new territory in which our public institutions rely primarily on tuition revenues and operate largely as private entities? Do we need a new public/private funding model? Or will we confirm there is a fundamental public purpose to higher education that merits a public investment?

In 2009-2011, for the first time in history, four of Washington’s six baccalaureate institutions will receive more operating revenue from tuition and fees than from state appropriations. They are University of Washington, Central Washington University, Evergreen State College and Western Washington University.

Eastern Washington University will receive only 51 percent of its operating revenue from the state.

These figures are in stark contrast to the previous biennium, when state support for baccalaureate institutions averaged 64 percent of total operating costs.

Not all agree the trend toward a privatized funding model is inevitable. Many would argue that it is not advisable. But we have reached a crossroads, and the decisions we make today will impact our state for generations to come.

The article also talks about the value — economic and social — of higher education to the state, challenges to meeting our goals for higher education, and the HEC Board’s charge to develop a new System Design Plan.  You can read the entire opinion piece here.

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