Keep the "higher" in higher education
The proposed legislative cuts to Washington higher education would cripple the state's ability to build our economy at just the worst moment, argues Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington. "Either [budget proposal] would mean that a great many Washingtonians would not be able to achieve their financial and professional dreams."
Special to The Times
FOR nearly 30 years before returning to my home state, I took great pride in watching Washington emerge as a leader in technology, global trade and innovation. I often bragged about the way our state had jumped on the opportunities of the knowledge economy and about how progressive it was in providing its people with the chance to get ahead, especially through higher education, just as I had. I was an unabashed promoter of my home state's ethos and culture of opportunity.
Fast-forward five years and I find it hard to recognize those same values and culture in the budget proposals in our state Legislature right now, especially regarding their treatment of higher education.
The task before the Legislature is daunting, to say the least. I know our legislators are struggling mightily to do the right thing, and I don't doubt the sincerity of their efforts. But as well-intentioned as they are, enacting either of the two legislative budget proposals would send a clear message that Washington is waving the white flag not only in the global competition of the knowledge economy, but on the future of our children.
Virtually all economists recognize there is no greater engine for creating good-paying jobs and building a state's economy than high-quality colleges and universities, especially research universities. The Legislature's budget proposals would cripple the state's capacity to build our economy at just the worst moment. Under either proposal, our state would be left to choose one of two options: deny 10,000 Washington students access to higher education, or dilute quality so badly that we have to remove the "higher" from higher education. Either one would mean that a great many Washingtonians would not be able to achieve their financial and professional dreams.
Our entire nation is suffering from this global recession. Yet we know of only one state — Nevada — where the Legislature has a proposed a higher cut to higher education than Washington's has. It is painfully ironic that the state that employs more scientists, engineers and tech workers per capita than any other state has proposed cutting its universities more than nearly everyone else. Washington businesses, under these proposals, would have to import well-educated workers from other states and nations, while Washington's sons and daughters are left doing the lower-paid, less-demanding work.
Washington prides itself on a progressive, high-technology, globally competitive economy. We are the most export-dependent state in the union. No other state has as much at stake in the global economic competition. Under these circumstances, for us to also be a national leader in cutting higher education is not just wrongheaded, it is self-destructive.
Obviously, Washington has a severe budget shortfall, and balancing the budget requires very difficult decisions. The magnitude of the proposed higher-education cuts, however, goes far past what can be managed through efficiency measures and new ways of providing high-quality education.
The leaders of our four-year colleges and universities understand that our schools must take cuts. But we also know that we can keep students coming to school and graduating on time if we are simply given more flexibility on tuition. We can help our students and our state without new state money. Moreover, we can fix much of this problem without denying access to students because of their income or family background.
The UW has the lowest tuition of any of its peers and is one of the best bargains in the country. With increased financial aid and the expanded federal tax credit, we can remain an excellent value for our families, maintain our world-class quality, and not slash the number of students we admit.
To give higher education the opportunity to resolve this crisis without requiring more state money is the only responsible thing to do. To do otherwise is to deny thousands of our citizens a chance to succeed in the knowledge economy.Mark A. Emmert is president of the University of Washington.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.