President Shepard addresses Higher Education Coordinating Board

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - 10:08am

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard addressed the Higher Education Coordinating Board at the board's Oct. 20, 2010, meeting at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Shepard spoke along with the presidents of the other four-year institutions of higher learning in Washington state. Each university was presenting its 2011-13 Institutional Budget Request.

Shepard's remarks:

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about Western Washington University. Here with me today is Byron Starkey, our Associated Students Vice President for Government Relations. Now, I have a firm rule: Never follow a student for they are so much more effective. So, Byron’s remarks will conclude our presentation.

You all have our budget proposal and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Today, I want to focus on the impact our university has been, and could be, making for the state of Washington.

Western Washington University is increasingly recognized around the country as a premier, destination university. Demand for admission this year was higher than ever, with 12,000 applications from across the state and the country for 3,500 openings. U.S. News and World Report have consistently ranked us the best public master’s-granting university in the Pacific Northwest, and the third best among such universities from Texas to the Pacific. Our MBA program made the Aspen Institute’s list of the top 100 programs worldwide, finishing ahead of MIT and Vanderbilt based on superior integration of social and environmental issues into our curriculum. This year, students at Western’s Vehicle Research Institute finished in the top 10 in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition, a contest to build an easily mass-produced 100 mpg automobile. The only other U.S. universities to enter this 140-team international competition were MIT and Cornell, neither of which made it past the first round.

I could go on, but I will pause here to note that, despite the budget cuts of the past two years, Western continues to innovate and evolve. We have recently refocused our strategic plan around the goal of building a stronger state of Washington, seeking further efficiencies through partnerships, revised policies and business practices, and a broader view of possible funding sources. I would like to highlight just a few of the ways these factor into our efforts to build a stronger state of Washington in the budget proposal before you.

--We are seeking funding for 413 new full time undergraduate students. Washington ranks near the bottom in the nation in the percentage of our citizens who attend our public universities. For the future of our children and the future of our state we must continue to try to increase baccalaureate education.

--Building on outstanding academic programs in four of our colleges, we are proposing a new renewable energy degree and a new center for Coastal Resources and the Environment. These programs will prepare our students to serve the state in a new, green economy and keep Washington on the cutting edge in environmental protection and renewable energy development.

--With our Teach Washington initiative we are proposing to increase the quantity and quality of science and mathematics teachers at all levels graduating each year from Western. This program would double the number of high quality mathematics and science teachers graduating from Western each year. This is vital for the future of our state, as less than 50% of 10th graders met the statewide standards in math and science in 2009, the last year the WASL was given.

--In 2008 the legislature, on your recommendation, designated Western as the state’s pilot for an innovative new approach to expanding pipelines to higher education. Compass 2 Campus has exceeded all expectations and it is now time to fund this program on a sustainable level.

--We are also asking for increased enrollments in our Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program. Latino populations are the fastest growing in Washington. School districts all over Washington are having difficulty recruiting bilingual educators and teachers of English Language Learners. Western is among the top two producers of P-12 teachers in the state of Washington, but our program to prepare bilingual and ELL teachers has reached capacity.

--Western is also requesting state support on behalf of the seven institutions that make up the Northwest Higher Education Coalition. In addition to Western, the Coalition consists of Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Skagit Valley College, Everett Community College, Olympic College, and the Northwest Indian College. We are proposing a coalition to serve veteran students. This coordinated effort will increase the number of veteran students transferring from community colleges to four-year institutions, increase graduation rates of veteran students, and build upon the leadership skills of veteran students and prepare veterans to utilize those skills in serving our state’s economy. Note the strategy for you will be seeing more and more of this from our part of the state: a 4-year as part of their university’s budget request to you and to OFM, is seeking funds almost all of which goes into the budgets of our 2-year partners. This is tangible evidence that, not just in words but also in deeds, we are collaborating on the ground where it matters most … to our students, to our communities. The Coalition is also working on collaboration related to attracting international students and internationalizing curriculum, as well as marine and environmental initiatives.

All of these proposals would make our state stronger.

And none of them are likely to be funded.

That probable lack of forward momentum would be disappointing enough on its own. But it comes on the heels of the accelerating free fall that higher education has been experiencing in this state for the last two years.

In the last two years, state support to Western’s students has been cut by 35%. Even with added tuition, our budget for this year has been cut by 17.2 million dollars. Again, that is net of tuition additions, stimulus dollars, and such. With the proposal before us for another 10% cut in 2011-13, we are looking at many millions of dollars more in cuts.

Almost two years ago, I went before the state legislature to warn that we were about to cut into the muscle and bone of our students’ education. That has now happened.

--At Western, we have now eliminated 14 high quality programs.

--In addition to the programs we have cut, we have also dramatically reduced funding to other high quality programs. We have, for example, suspended enrollments in Washington’s only public Student Affairs Administration program, which has provided Student affairs professionals to colleges and universities across this state and to other states as well. We have also severely cut the funding to our Canadian American Studies Program and Border Policy Research Institute, programs that have for years fueled economic trade between Washington and Canada, and have recently provided research data for discussions and negotiations between Governor Gregoire and British Columbia Premier Campbell.

--We will be restricting admissions during Winter and Spring quarters, meaning that many qualified Washington students will not have access to Western’s high quality public education. As you know, our state is among the worst in the nation in terms of baccalaureate participation, and that is due in no small part to the lack of access to our institutions.

--We are reducing tuition waivers for Winter and Spring quarters by $250,000. Tuition waivers are a form of financial aid, and this cut will be a great hardship for many of our students.

--We are making an already crowded campus even more so, cancelling almost all of our off-campus leases. Making room for administrative offices, performance spaces, and storage spaces on our already packed main campus will further constrain our students’ education.

--And, let me hasten to add, we have pursued further efficiencies. We have, for example, just merged key services with Whatcom Community College in the area of print services. Joint efforts in four other areas are being aggressively pursued. There are real savings.

We will relentlessly pursue further savings. But, given that our six public baccalaureates are, already and by the best available national data, the most efficient in the nation, expecting the answer is to be found in further efficiency is an example of what my psychologist friends would call, “magical thinking.”

What is next if we cut 10% more? Today, we are talking budget requests. Actual operating budgets for Western will be built this spring using our bottom up, transparent and strategically focused processes.

So, at this point, discussion of what a “10% cut” scenario might bring must be, unavoidably, very general. One thing you can count on: our top priority will continue to be serving students who have every right to expect that they will get the outstanding baccalaureate education for which Western is widely known.

Still trying to look ahead, you have heard me summarize some of what the current 6.3% cut took out: high quality programs ever closer to core mission. By simple extrapolation, you know that it is no longer a matter of simply protecting high quality programs. Instead, we have had to base our decisions on further determining which high quality programs are most central to our core mission. And, based on that higher-order principle, we will not compromise the quality of the educational programs that remain for the students we then continue to be able to serve.

I can be a bit more specific. Today, our variable costs equal tuition. What does that economics jargon mean? Very simply this: cutting lower cost programs actually makes our budget situation worse. For such programs, say in the Humanities or Social Sciences, the revenues lost in tuition are more than the savings from cutting programs. With tuition so much a part of the picture, today, low cost programs pay for high cost programs. The only way academic program cuts help with a budget reduction, these days, is if we cut our highest cost programs.

Those are, of course, programs the state deems of high importance. And, by the way, they are precisely the programs that are growing most rapidly at Western as our reputation and accomplishments in the areas of science and technology have grown enormously.

Usually I enjoy presentations like this, because I get to talk about what a wonderful institution Western is. As you can see, I never get tired of talking about our outstanding faculty, the hands-on research opportunities we give our undergraduates, how much the rankings people love us, and how many business leaders and Peace Corps volunteers we produce. Western is a great university and it’s my privilege to come to meetings like this one and brag about it.

But our circumstances in this state are now such that I must look beyond obligations to Western. I know you feel the same need: to look beyond your immediate obligation of reviewing our budget requests and toward the long-term future of our state’s public universities. Not because it is about the state’s universities.

No, because it is about our state’s future. And, that is because it is really about our children’s future. The generation coming of age now is the first in American history to be less educated than their parents—even more dramatically in Washington State than other states around the country. At the same time, we are losing our edge against other developed nations, where they are increasing their rates of higher education by anywhere from 10-20%.

Along with being the engines of our economy, state universities deliver dreams and transform lives. Access to baccalaureate education and a college degree really is the key to the American dream. It is the difference between filling the role defined by the circumstances of your birth and fulfilling your potential. The difference between having a job and having a career. And research has shown those differences also result in better health, less dependence on federal and state social services, and of course, higher earning potential.

At Western, we put it much more simply: a state’s wealth is best measured by the developed talent of its people.

The promise of public universities is that everyone who works hard enough can have access to the same education and opportunity as those who are privileged enough to attend private universities like Harvard, Stanford, or the University of Chicago. Washington ranks in the bottom five in the nation in both participation in our public universities and the funding of our public universities.

Western, I am confident, will continue to flourish, for we will protect quality for those able to attend. It is Washington we all must be very concerned for. And, advocate for.

Thank you very much for your service and your time today.