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State disinvestment: Recognizing the impacts of long-term state budget cuts to higher education

This week, Columns, the UW’s Alumni Association Magazine, published Down to the Core, an article highlighting the budget challenges the UW currently faces and the decisions – made over a decade ago by the legislature – that put the University in such an urgent situation.


During the Great Recession, the state was forced to make dramatic budget cuts in areas across state government, including public higher education. For the UW, that meant losing over $132 million in the 2009-2011 Washington state budget and cutting per-student state funding by half. Ten years later, the state has not yet restored funding to pre-recession levels, despite the UW serving thousands more students annually. In addition, the legislature has reduced, frozen and capped tuition increases for in-state undergraduate students since 2013. This has resulted in the UW having one of the lowest in-state undergraduate tuition rates among the country’s top public research universities. While this helps reinforce the University’s mission of ensuring access to higher education for Washington students, it further contributes to the UW’s budget concerns. Between capped tuition and reduced state funding, a significant gap between operating costs and operating funds has developed, along with a backlog of deferred maintenance on the capital side.

Private Fundraising

The UW has proactively pursued private fundraising options through the Be Boundless campaign. However, private donors are primarily focused on projects that interest and inspire them, which may come in the form of scholarships, new buildings, or specific research projects. Everyday costs like keeping the lights on and paying the University’s world class faculty and support staff are not funded by private supporters. While the UW works hard to leverage private support, it is not a sustainable path to bridging the funding gap.

Quality of Education

Funding shortages have strained the UW’s ability to support its students, faculty, staff, and campuses. With the high cost of living in the Puget Sound region and limited means to compensate faculty, it has been increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the nation’s brightest faculty and researchers.

Prioritizing Higher Education

Higher education is a long-term investment into our state’s residents, our economy, and research projects with immeasurable impact on future generations. The UW is advocating for funding increases from the legislature in this year’s budget as outlined in this legislative agenda, and leaders from public institutions across the state have come together to highlight the importance of higher education. In November, UW President Cauce and WSU President Schulz came together during the Apple Cup to launch the “Yes, It’s Possible” public awareness campaign to spread the message that college is affordable and available to all Washington state residents.