WSU is advancing Washington industries …
WSU teams with aviation to develop sustainable aviation biofuels …
WSU partners to develop bioproducts that reduce dependence on petroleum imports …
WSU works with state commodity commissions to conduct needed agricultural research …
WSU developed the technology used for wood-plastic composites used for buildings …
WSU researchers work to improve dairy productivity and reduce disease …
WSU research has made Washington one of the world’s most productive wheat-growing regions …

Cougar Chat

Higher education funding condundrum: yes, no, maybe?

The Washington State Legislature continues on its path to final negotiations on the 2013-15 biennial state budget. Given that the stakes get ever higher, it is not surprising that additional reports, articles, and commentary were released last week on higher education and state funding. capitol campus

The Washington Roundtable, a public policy organization comprised of senior executives from Washington’s major employers, released a report on March 27th detailing the job skills gap in Washington State and the associated implications for our state economy. One of its recommendation calls for increased capacity in key programs in higher education, such as computer science, engineering, and healthcare.

In turn, Danny Westneat, a columnist with the Seattle Times, commented Sunday a “cognitive dissonance” between the higher education availability challenges being reported by leaders in the business community and their reactions the next day when it comes to budget proposals for state funding of public higher education. Westneat’s column ended on a conciliatory note remarking that the  business organizations’ hearts are in the right place on the value of public higher education while reminding his readers on the SHEEO report findings we posted two weeks ago:

The national State Higher Education Executive Officers, which looked at how states financially support their public colleges, reports [Washington State] ranked 49th out of 50 states last year. By two dollars per student, we barely beat Florida for dead last.

Bringing the issues back to a national level, another report was released last week, this time by the National Association of State Budget Officers, a non-partisan group of state-government officials. It’s analysis of higher education finance — paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation located in Seattle – concluded that the financial model for public higher education is broken and called for state lawmakers and campuses to share the burden of fixing the problem. budget cut in half

On the one hand, it is encouraging to see the robust discussion and reporting on the issues of higher education and state funding since dialogue in the policy arena can be a recipe for finding equitable solutions. On the other hand, we continue to be concerned about the root cause of the problems. As noted  in several reports we have posted over the last eight months, public higher education is proving to be one of the greatest challenges for state government.

The state budget officers’ report agreed with other documented findings that the current way states and colleges pay for higher education is, arguably, unsustainable. Costs of higher education have grown dramatically, state appropriations have declined precipitously, and there is a steady growth in enrollment. The reduced state funding support has created rising tuition, increased student debt burden, growing class sizes, reductions in full time faculty, delayed maintenance of capital infrastructure, and cost cutting measures that contribute to the program availability challenges reported last week by the Washington Roundtable.

With public universities and colleges now educating 75% of all Americans who are accessing post secondary higher education or, in our state, an estimated >80% of Washingtonians, our interest was piqued by a comment posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In direct response to an article discussing the state budget officers report, a blog responder with compelling credentials – former state budget officer and currently serving her state on a higher education coordinating board – opined on the real source of the problem facing public higher education based on her unique perspective as a result of having served on both sides of the funding debate:

The real problem is that state government officials have lost sight of the critical importance of higher education to the future of state economies and the nation. Once a source of great pride, state legislators now look at higher education spending the same as all other spending across the expanse of state budgets. Americans have essentially decided that higher education isn’t all that important, and convey that sentiment through state budgets.

Are these observations – as dire and depressing as they are  — applicable to the state of Washington, its citizenry, and what truly lies in our hearts? Have we stopped caring about higher education? We hope this is not the case and look forward to continuing the dialogue in support of public higher education and its value to the state of Washington now and in the future.

Tags: , ,

No comments yet.

Add your response

You must be logged in to post a comment.