WWU officials concerned with effects on higher education of governor's budget
Western Washington University officials today expressed concerns about the effects of substantial cuts proposed for public higher education in the state in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s 2009-11 supplemental budget.
Western officials fear that additional cuts to higher education at the level proposed in the Governor’s budget will lead to significant reductions in access to higher education by Washington state citizens, will make a college education more expensive, and will lengthen the time it takes to complete a degree, as fewer course sections will be available.
“While the Governor and Legislature must make very difficult decisions in the midst of this recession, we feel strongly that continued cuts to higher education will damage our ability to help the state recover economically and to provide brighter futures for our citizens,” said WWU President Bruce Shepard. “Additional cuts would inevitably damage the excellence of Western and our ability to accommodate increasing numbers of students who are seeking the exceptionally high-quality education this university provides.”
Public higher education, in the just-announced budget proposal, would be cut $89.5 million. This additional 6.2 percent reduction would be distributed across all of public post-secondary education. Western’s 2010-11 base operating budget would be permanently reduced by an additional $3.8 million.
“The budget for the 2009-11 biennium – adopted by the Legislature last spring, signed by the Governor, and transparently formulated by and for Western – contained for us a reduction of 29 percent in state support,” Shepard said. “The budget the Governor proposes must be balanced. Her choices are all difficult as they come on top of very serious and – as we have seen at Western – damaging reductions that have already been made. Options for Western and public higher education to offset cuts through, for example, federal stimulus dollars or tuition increases have already been employed; and most of the state’s budget cannot be touched because of state constitutional or other requirements.”
While Western officials understand there is another budget proposal to be presented in January that will propose additional revenues (taxes), additional cuts to higher education after the last round of budget cuts would be devastating. Washington’s six public universities, prior to the cuts, were already nationally ranked at the top of the 50 states in measures of productivity and efficiency while being recognized for high quality.
“To put this in context, the budget we, together, developed last academic year contains a biennial $12 million reduction – after adding back tuition dollars and federal stimulus funds,” Shepard said. “In terms of our annual base operating budget, the already planned cut for next year is $6.075 million. In the Governor’s proposal, then, cutting another $3.8 million from next fiscal year’s budget would require taking the huge and painful cuts already decided and go beyond them to cut by well over half again as much.”
In addition, the Governor’s budget includes reductions in need-based financial aid – including a 60 percent cut to the State Need Grant – which university officials strongly oppose in the midst of a severe economic downturn, when so many students and their families are struggling financially.
“This is a critical component of our state’s commitment to access to brighter futures for all its citizens. There are also cuts to funding for work-study and a variety of scholarship programs,” Shepard said. “We are currently modeling just how this will affect our Western students – and, our future enrollments – but we can certainly say at this point that access to the premier education provided by Western will be further restricted to those with the means to pay full tuition.”
The Governor’s proposed budget next goes to the Legislature, which will formulate a final supplemental budget plan for the state.
“We will be aggressively seeking out support from all the friends and supporters of higher education to make the strong case in Olympia that higher education is a critical solution to our state’s economic prosperity and not the problem,” Shepard said.
Last year, in preparation for the biennium budget process, Western adopted a bottom-up, transparent budget process that will continue during deliberations of the supplemental budget. As the university develops and updates its budget proposals, those updates will be available on the University Budgeting and Planning Web site.