By A. Ivanhoe
The magnitude of the proposed cuts to higher education, and to Western specifically, came as a surprise to University Planning and Budgeting, the office that oversees budgetary matters for the university and left some of the university’s trustees and student leadership visibly perturbed.
AS President Erik Lowe worried that fewer students will be able to get their degrees at Washington’s public universities and cited a highereducation.org statistic showing Washington ranking 48th in the country when it comes to resident students getting their education in state.
Lowe is not alone in worrying that the proposed budget cuts will make it more difficult for Washington to offer quality higher education opportunities to students.
In an opinion article on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Web site, David Horsey wrote, “My son is hoping to start in the nationally-recognized automobile design program at Western Washington University this fall. I want him to be able to get in and to get out in time. Legislators will not be doing me a favor if they screw up my son’s plans. Nor will they do any student in this state a favor if they cripple our fine universities.”
“If the state [proceeds with budget cuts to higher education at the legislature’s proposed levels], the state will be in a difficult situation a hell of a lot longer,” Western Trustee John Warner said during a Board of Trustees meeting, referring to the economic benefit Washington would lose by educating fewer of its residents.
Budget cuts at levels proposed by the Washington State legislature will result in the loss of 250 university employees, according to estimates from University Planning and Budgeting (UPB). Some of these will have to be faculty positions, although the university hopes to avoid losing any tenured faculty positions, UPB executive director Paula M. Gilman said.
With reductions in faculty, fewer seats will be available for high-demand courses and UPB projects that, under the legislative budget, the average student will graduate a year later than expected. Crowded classes and fewer students graduating on time could marginally reduce the number of new students the university could accept each year and still guarantee that they can get into the classes they need.
During a Board of Trustees meeting, Western President Bruce Shepard suggested that the university could net 900 fewer full-time equivalent students when accounting for a reduction in the average number of credits each student would be taking.
“Popular majors are going to be impossible to get into and students may be majoring in something they don’t want to major in,” Lowe said.
According to a document prepared by UPB, each chamber of the state legislature has proposed cutting Western’s operating budget over the next two years by 8.2 percent. While the bottom line is the same under each proposal, how they arrive there differs greatly.
The senate proposed cutting state funding to Western by 25.2 percent, allowing 7 percent tuition increases each year and allocating $8.8 million in federal stimulus money to the university. The house wants to cut state funding by 25.8 percent, allow 10 percent annual tuition increases and give Western $5.9 million in federal stimulus money.
The university has been preparing for budget cuts by holding vacant faculty and staff positions open and cutting travel and private contractor expenses, Gilman said. They have also asked academic departments for proposed budgets reflecting 3.8 and 5 percent cuts and non-academic divisions for budgets reflecting 5 and 7 percent cuts.
The planning has been based on a budget that Governor Christine Gregoire proposed to the state legislature last December, asking for what amounts to a 5.2 percent cut in Western’s operating budget, according to a University Planning and Budgeting document. This figure did not include potential federal stimulus money, which would have further reduced the amount of the cut. (Compare this with 11.7 percent and 10.6 percent cuts under the respective state senate and house proposals, when not accounting for stimulus.)
Last week Governor Gregoire, Horsey and the Seattle Times editorial board each came out in support of tuition increases of 14 percent per year for the next two years to help make up for some of the budget cuts. This would bring Western’s budget cut down to about 2.6 percent, according to UPB projections. UPB believes that tuition increases would only affect students whose families have annual incomes of more than $160,000 because of the availability of Pell Grants and education tax credits.
Students most negatively affected by tuition increases will be those whose parents claim them as dependants on their tax returns but do not contribute to their children’s education. UPB also estimates that the additional cost to each student of an extra year before graduation would be $17,475 from each student, when factoring in additional fees, supplies and living expenses.
The state legislature is expected to announce a compromise budget resulting from a conference between the senate and the house and approve the budget before the legislative session ends on April 27. This month Shepard will be meeting with all the university’s deans and vice presidents to put together a budget recommendation for Western, which will be made available on the university’s Web site on May 11.